Current Affairs

Current Affairs




Information Minister, Colin Campbell has assured the country that the Access to Information Bill will expand
citizens’ participation in the democratic process and remove the “cloud of secrecy” that has characterised the
civil service.

He said that underlying the Bill were the principles of accountability, openness and public participation. “The
Bill will reflect this intent and what we are going for is openness and not secrecy,” the Minister stated.

He was speaking at a forum organised by the Media Association of Jamaica and the Carter Centre on Wednesday
(February 6) at Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, to discuss the topic, ‘Fostering Transparency in
Jamaica: Access to Information and Corruption Prevention Acts’.

Opposition Spokesperson on Information, Olivia “Babsy” Grange expressed support for the Bill’s objective to
ensure greater accountability and transparency from Government, but questioned whether adequate staffing and
infrastructure would be put in place to ensure that the intents of the legislation were carried out.

“What measures have been put in place to deal with the additional pressures that will result from the Act? Have
resources been allocated for staffing and for proper record management?’’ she questioned.

Minister Campbell said that all necessary administrative support would be in place. “It is no good just passing
the legislation and we do not have in place the necessary administrative support to give effect to the law. I want
to give the assurance that we take it seriously and things will be in place,” he stated.

The Information Minister who is also Chairman of the Joint Select Committee examining the Bill, told the forum
that funding had been allocated in the 2001/02 Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure “to ensure that all the
preparatory work goes forward”.

The Access to Information Bill is intended to eventually repeal the Official Secrets Act of 1911, which
effectively prevented public access to information without the permission of a Minister. The draft Bill is now
before Parliament.

The Bill aims to provide the pubic with the right to information held by public authorities. It does not however
apply to documents generated from the Governor-General’s office, the judicial functions of a court and the

Civic groups have criticised the prohibition of public access to Cabinet documents, noting that this was a breAch
of the public’s right to information.

Minister Campbell said the Bill was fashioned from that of several other countries including New Zealand,
Australia, Canada and England, which also had Cabinet documents exempted.

“Because documents are exempted … does not mean that they cannot be disclosed,” he stated.

Speaking on the topic ‘Transforming Jamaican Democracy through Transparency,’ University of the West Indies
Professor, Dr. Trevor Munroe asserted that democratic governance in Jamaica has been eroded by high levels of
corruption, abuses of law and order and party centralism.

“Popular dissatisfaction with the performance of the system has grown and there is widespread recognition of the
need for Jamaican democracy to become more open, transparent, accountable and participatory,” he stated.

He noted that new laws, effective institutions and active enforcement of existing legislations were vital to the
process of transformation. “Equally necessary are greater levels of sustained activism from civil society for
fundamental change to become a reality,” he stated.

Speaking on the issue of corruption, Attorney-at-law, Dr. Lloyd Barnett said that the scourge had the potential to
erode the human rights and security of ordinary Jamaicans.

“The psychological effects of corruption, violence, their impact on the economy and the sense of injustice and
deprivation they engender, contribute to an unhealthy body politic. Progress in Jamaica is dependent on the
creation of an atmosphere of transparency, justice and security,” he stated.

Other speakers at the function included Executive Chairman of the Open Democracy Advice Centre in South Africa,
Dr. Richard Calland, who spoke on ‘The Right to Information’ and Dr. Alasdair Roberts, who spoke on the topic
–‘Access to Information: How it is useful and how is it used’.