Public should be allowed more time to comment on Access to Information Bill

Dear Editor,

We must all welcome the tabling of the Access to Information Bill No 10 of 2011 in the National Assembly. The Bill was immediately referred to a Select Committee of the National Assembly for consideration. An advertisement in the press on July 10 invited the public to forward written submissions of their views on the Bill no later than Monday July 18, 2011.

While there may be an understandable desire by the ruling party to ensure the Bill is passed into law before the 2011 general elections, it is also important that the parliamentarians and the public are given sufficient time to make a careful study of this important piece of legislation.

It took this government fourteen years to honour its 1997 Manifesto pledge to introduce freedom of information legislation. To give the public a mere seven working days to make written submissions on this 50 clause Bill is unreasonable, impractical and counter-productive. It is the type of rushed work that has led so often to legislation being introduced and then repealed within a short time because of fatal defects.

A brief review of the Bill reveals several serious shortcomings and a careful examination will require significantly more time than the seven working days allowed by the Select Committee.

I hope that the Prime Minister who I understand has parliamentary responsibility for the Bill will allow for a more practical extension for public comments. I hope too that the committee will permit appearances before it, allowing for an informed exchange and discussion.

Yours faithfully,
Christopher Ram

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