Current Affairs

Current Affairs



Campbell making haste to pass Access to Information Bill
The Gleaner
Thursday December 13, 2001

INFORMATION MINISTER Colin Campbell is pushing for the Access to Information Bill to be passed into law before the end of the legislative year in March 2002.

Mr. Campbell, who chairs the joint select committee charged with studying the Bill and making recommendations to Parliament, said he wanted the committee to move speedily to tie up its work.

"We are going to project a very aggressive meeting schedule during the month of January," he said at the first sitting of the committee on Tuesday.

The Bill will provide members of the public with the right to information generated and/or held by public authorities and companies as specified in the Act.

It does not, however, apply to documents from the Governor-General and his staff; the judicial functions of a court, the holder of a judicial office connected with the court; or other specified offices related to the court.
Formerly the Freedom of Information Act, the Bill was renamed to prevent confusion about the public's right to information.

According to the Government, freedom of information implied that there was unlimited right to information while access to information suggested that there were conditions attached to the release of that information.
Meeting dates for the committee have been fixed for January 9, 16, 23 and 30. However, if the dates prove inadequate to complete the work, the committee will sit for a further three days on January 31 and February 1 and 2. Also, the committee will accept submissions from the public on January 9 and 16.

Committee member Ronnie Thwaites, however, cautioned Mr. Campbell to "make haste slowly". He said he understood the need for the committee to move quickly but argued that because of the importance of the Bill and the public interest that it has generated, the committee would have to consult widely with civil society including those in the public sector before completing its work.

Canute Brown, another committee member, called for the public to become involved in the discussions on the Bill and urged the media to do all they could to publicise the work of the committee. According to him, only 12 countries in the world have enacted such legislation.

In his remarks, committee member Delroy Chuck said the Bill was an important piece of legislation in the democratic process.

"In any democracy, if ideas, information and opinion cannot flow freely, then it is not possible for us to enjoy and participate fully in the democratic process. So we need to get that to the public at large," he said.
The legislation is modelled on the Australian law, which was the first such legislation to be enacted in the Commonwealth.