Attorney General talks up access to info Act

-though key requirements weren’t in place up to February

No person or organization has yet made use of the Access to Information Act, Attorney-General Anil Nandlall said on Friday though he neglected to mention that up to February, a list of public authorities as well as procedures to be followed to request documents had not been published in the Official Gazette as required by law.

There has since been no announcement as to whether these requirements have been met.

Nandlall made the comment in response to remarks by US ambassador Brent Hardt at a reception hosted by the diplomat at his residence in observance of World Press Freedom Day. The US envoy had endorsed the findings of a report by the International Press Institute (IPI) that investigated the media landscape in Guyana last year, which, among other things, said that journalists in Guyana view the difficulty of obtaining information from the government as one of the primary obstacles to doing their job well.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall speaking at the Friday reception
Attorney General Anil Nandlall speaking at the Friday reception

“Guyana did take a positive step toward greater transparency in 2011 with the passage of the Access to Information Act, but there have unfortunately been delays in implementation. While the appointment of an Information Commissioner is welcome, IPI pointed out that, to be effective, transparent, and independent, this position should be adequately staffed and separated from the Office of the President in keeping with international standards,” the ambassador said.

Nandlall, in response said that over the past two years, no person or organization made use of the Act. The Act was passed in 2011 and became operational on July 2 last year. Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, retired Justice of Appeal, Charles Ramson was sworn in as Commis-sioner of Information on July 15, 2013. The Act has been criticized as flawed.

It is less than a year since the Act was made operational and up to February, there had been no publication in the Official Gazette and in a daily newspaper of information on public authorities, documents in their possession for inspection and the procedures to be followed when request for access to a document is made, among other things.

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds made that disclosure to the National Assembly in a written response to questions by AFC parliamentarian Cathy Hughes. Up to that point, no list of public authorities was published as required under the law but a preliminary list was submitted for approval for publication, Hinds wrote in response to Hughes’ question about whether the Commission of Information had published the information as stated under Clause 8 of the Act.

He added that responses from several public authorities were being evaluated and, upon due appraisal, will be published in the Official Gazette and a daily newspaper at the earliest.

Clause 8 of the Act provides for the publication of certain documents and information as soon as practicable after the commencement of the law. These include a statement setting out the particulars of the organization, and functions of the public authority, indicating as far as practicable, the decision-making powers and other powers affecting members of the public, among other things; a statement of the categories of documents that are maintained in possession of the public authority; a statement of material prepared for inspection by members of the public; and a statement of the procedure to be followed by a person when a request for access to a document is made.

The Act defines public authority as the National Assembly inclusive of parliamentary committees subject to the Standing Orders; subject to section 4(2), the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Income Tax Board of Review or a court of summary jurisdiction; the Cabinet as constituted under the Constitution; a ministry or a department or division of a ministry; local democratic organs; a regional health authority; a statutory body, responsibility for which is assigned to a minister; a company incorporated under the laws of Guyana which is owned or controlled by the state; a constitutional commission or any other commission established by law; or a body corporate or an unincorporated entity in relation to any function which it exercises on behalf of the state; which is established by or on behalf of the state; or which is supported, directly or indirectly, by government funds and over which government exercises control.

Hinds had also told the National Assembly that Ramson is being paid a salary of $1.2 million per month and apart from the commissioner, two members of staff have been employed.

 

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