Proposes to exempt President, release of Cabinet decisions
The government yesterday tabled long overdue legislation that makes access to information a legal right. But the Bill proposes to refuse access to decisions made by Cabinet, the body comprising Government ministers and chaired by the President.
Called the Access to Information Bill 2011, the proposed legislation is intended to extended members of the public the right to access information in the possession of public authorities.
The Bill proposes that the President appoint a Commissioner of Information who would discharge functions stated by the legislation.
The Bill seeks to enshrine in the Constitution the right of all Guyanese or persons domiciled in Guyana to obtain access to an official document. It sets out the method by which persons could secure access to information.
Information could be requested on the website of the Commissioner of Information, or through other electronic means which would be established.
The legislation, as stated in the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill, is intended to promote transparency and accountability in the workings of the government and public authorities. The Bill is in accord with Article 146 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
The Bill suggests that public authorities have the onus to maintain all their records duly catalogued, classified and indexed in a manner and form which facilitates the right to access to information. In the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill, the government stated that the right to freedom of information is increasingly accepted as a necessary aspect of participatory democracies.
The government stated that the right to information stems from the concept of open and transparent government and freedom of information may be viewed as capable of advancing a number of desirable objectives in the society.
According to the Memorandum, the right to freedom of information helps to make government more accountable and acts as a weapon in the fight against corruption and contributes to improving the quality of official decision making.
The Bill sets out what information the public would not have access to. These include the official record of meetings and decisions of Cabinet. That could only be accessed after 20 years.
The law would not apply to the President. It would also not apply to any Commission of Inquiry issued by the President, or information obtained or created in the course of an investigation, examination or audited by or under the authority of the Auditor General, unless the investigation or audit and all related proceedings are financially concluded.
The law would also not apply to a public authority or function of a public authority as the President may determine, but only after a favourable resolution by the National Assembly.
The Bill proposes that a holder of judicial office should not be considered a public authority.
The Bill defines an exempt document as one which contains information if disclosed would be likely to prejudice the defense of Guyana or any of its allies; would lead to actions preventing the suppression of subversive or hostile activities.
In addition, an exempt document would be one which contains information that if disclosed would prejudice the lawful activities of the disciplined forces.
The Bill also sets out penalties for the destruction of official documents. A person, who willfully destroys or damages a document which should have been preserved, would be liable to a fine of $300,000 and imprisonment for six months.
The Bill also proposes that someone who destroys information which was requested is liable on conviction to one year imprisonment. It is also proposed that someone who is in unlawful possession of an exempt document to be liable to a fine of $300,000 and imprisonment for six months.
Where there are documents which contain inaccurate personal information, it allows for the person to whom the information relates to apply in writing to the public authority which holds the document to correct the information by amending or annotating the document.
The Bill proposes that where the Commissioner of Information intends to disclose any information about a third party, the Commissioner must give written notification to the third party and invite that person to make a submission.
The Bill does not require the media to give access to any part of a document which discloses the source of any information obtained in the course of making any programme or broadcast.
The Bill seeks to make it obligatory for the Minister of Information to prepare an annual report on the operation of the Act and cause a copy of the report to be laid in the National Assembly.
It is also proposed that the Minister may make regulations to give effect to the purpose of the Act.
The Bill was read for a first time in the National Assembly. It would then have to be deliberated by the House before it could be passed.
Feb 29, 2020Having ended as the runner-up team in Group D of the Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship and earning a place in the round-of-16, Guyana’s ‘Lady Jags’, ranked #23 in Concacaf will oppose...
There is no sociologist I know who writes on Guyana that has rejected the paradigm traditionally used in academic literature... more
Editor’s Note, If your sent letter was not published and you felt its contents were valid and devoid of libel or personal attacks, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]