Dec 27, 2008 News
Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Raphael Trotman, says that he is disappointed that the Government did not see it fit to support the Freedom of Information legislation this year. He says that he is, nevertheless, optimistic that this will change in the new year.
He noted that his disappointment was further fuelled by the fact that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association had held a workshop for Parliamentarians and media operatives, where Freedom of Information (FOI) was extensively discussed.
He conceded that legislation such as the FOI will take time, but pointed out that there was a resounding call by Guyanese, who were now beginning to understand the importance of such a piece of legislation, as well as the calls from the international organisations.
According to Trotman, FOI is important for good governance and transparency in Guyana.
Recently, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds had stated that FOI, which is currently on hold by its mover Trotman, is being advanced, and as fast as possible, aimed at being implemented; but Trotman had informed this newspaper that he was unaware of any such initiatives on the part of the Government.
Former Minister of Information, Moses Nagamootoo, had also told this newspaper that he was a staunch advocate of FOI legislation, and restated his position at the recently held Commonwealth Forum for Parliamentarians and media personnel on FOI.
At that forum, he and the Prime Minister had said that FOI was inevitable for Guyana.
Nagamootoo added that, ever since the Commonwealth Forum that was held at the Grand Coastal Inn, he has not been aware of any discussion pertaining to FOI legislation.
According to Nagamootoo, he was also not aware of any alternative of counter to Trotman’s proposed legislation.
He did say that, being that he was the former journalist as well as a former Minister of Information, such discussions would have been held with him.
The People’s National Congress Reform has already voiced its support for the legislation; and yesterday, leader of Vision Guyana, Peter Ramsaroop, did likewise.
In an invited comment, Ramsaroop said: “This will allow us to ensure accountability and transparency…Critical information such as procurements and contracts should be visible to the public.”
He said that his party actively supports the AFC cause in getting the legislation passed in the National Assembly. “There should be no objection by the Administration if they believe everything is being done above board.”
During a mid-year press briefing, General Secretary of the PPP, Donald Ramotar, had disclosed that at that time the party “has never consulted internally on whether it would support Freedom of Information legislation.”
Ramotar did concede that the PPP may have to support FOI some time in future, and that it is likely that this was what the Prime Minister was referring to.
The position adopted by Ramotar came on the heels of public statements by both Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy, in which they conceded that the enactment of the legislation was inevitable.
Despite acknowledging its inevitability, the Prime Minister had said that Guyana was already experiencing 80 per cent of Freedom of Information, in that the Government already makes information available in a proactive manner. The Prime Minister made this statement at a forum to discuss the mining situation.
The essence of the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), is the empowerment of the populace to request any piece of information (with few exceptions, such as medical records) held by a public authority. One such utilisation of the Act was cited by a renowned Trinidadian journalist, Sasha Mohammad, at the CPA workshop.
According to Mohammad, one such incident was when there was a request that the salaries and monies paid to the director of a bank be disclosed.
The Bill proposed by Trotman is based on the Trinidad model, which has been criticised by the Government for having too many flaws.
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