Getting information from the Commissioner of Information, Charles Ramson Sr, seems to be an uphill task…even if one is the administration and one is asking.
One of the highest offices in the land, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), is quickly learning that it cannot even budge the Commissioner.
The Commissioner, who was appointed in July 2013, has been under pressure from the new administration to prepare a number of reports pertaining to his work.
However, since taking office in May 2015, the Coalition government is yet to see a report that has to be tabled in the National Assembly, in accordance to the laws.
Ramson’s failure to submit any reports since taking office is now the subject of litigation.
The Commissioner is reportedly claiming, in a letter to Nagamootoo, that he does not have any staffers to help him prepare the reports.
Since being appointed in 2013, just about 16 applications came in for information, disclosed Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, yesterday.
In one reported case, Transparency International, a non-governmental organization, claimed its application was shockingly rejected because Ramson as Commissioner was not addressed properly.
The office was created to bring transparency to Government dealings and handle requests, on a timely basis, for information on contracts and other matters. It would have come after years of secrecy on the internal workings of government and difficulties by media and other interest groups to access information.
Ramson, a former Attorney General appointed under the Donald Ramotar administration, is being paid over $1.5M monthly plus other benefits but has filed a court case against government for more monies to run the office.
Yesterday, Harmon during the post-Cabinet press briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency, confirmed that the matter which has been engaging Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, is now being handled by President David Granger.
Nagamootoo is the minister in charge of information.
Harmon disclosed that Ramson has written the PM explaining why the reports are not ready. The letter contained language that even Harmon, a lawyer, had a difficulty understanding.
According to the Minister of State, government is very clear that ghe Commissioner of Information cannot be locked away from the public as he would not be considered as performing his duties. Only 16 persons or organizations have applied since July 2013 for information, small justifications for a person with level of emolument, Harmon stressed.
The minister noted that the matter is also subject to legal proceedings but the question of the tenure of the Commissioner is engaging the attention of the President.
Former Auditor General, Dr. Anand Goolsarran, had pointed out that there was a major problem with the Access to Information Act in which there is no provision in terms of limit in the tenure of office of the Commissioner.
In this regard, the former Auditor General had asked: “For how long more will this imposition continue? No one knows.”
Meanwhile, the taxpaying public continues to be burdened with a monthly $2 million bill for which little or no value for money is being received.”
According to the Act governing Ramson’s office, the responsible Minister (PM or the President), should, “as soon as practicable but not later than nine months, after the end of each year, lay a report on the operation of this (Access to Information) Act in the National Assembly.”
The Act also states that the said report should include the number of requests made to the Commissioner of Information; the number of applications for judicial review of decisions and the outcome of those applications; the number of complaints made to the Commissioner of Information with respect to the operation of the Act and the nature of those complaints; the number of notices served upon the Commissioner of Information and the number of decisions by the Commissioner which were adverse to the person’s claim.
Goolsarran noted that the handing over of annual reports to the National Assembly is a key requirement of the law.
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