AFC to press for info access law to be user-ready – Ramjattan

The AFC will be pushing for the operationalising of the Access to Information Act and has expressed concern that the provisions are yet to be implemented.
“We’re gonna press hard for that,” the party’s leader, Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News yesterday. He referred to comments by presidential advisor on governance Gail Teixeira that government was making information available in the absence of a commencement order to bring the Act into force and said that while some questions are being answered in the National Assembly, there is a need for the Act to be operationalised. The AFC leader noted that there are other sections of society that have an interest in accessing information and they cannot do this without the Act being brought into force.

Khemraj Ramjattan
Khemraj Ramjattan

Several weeks ago, Teixeira told Stabroek News that a commencement order is needed to bring the Access to Information Act into force and this cannot be done until a Commissioner of Information is appointed. The then Bharrat Jagdeo administration used its majority in the National Assembly to pass the controversial legislation on September 15, 2011, in the absence of the opposition parties. Teixeira had disclosed that the legislation was assented to and gazetted some time in 2011.

The legislation had long been called for, but when the bill was tabled there was strong objection to its format, especially the provision for the Commissioner of Information to be selected by the President. Teixeira had told Stabroek News that there may be some issues with the appointment of the Commis-sioner of Information. “As you know, the opposition in those days was opposed to the whole idea of a Commission-er of Information,” she had said when addressing the failure to make an appointment.

Asked if there was any progress in identifying a candidate, Teixeira said the way the bill was designed, a number of things had to be put in place before this is done “and that we are trying to do.” In the meantime, she had stated, a number of government websites, like that of the parliament, are being updated so that a lot of information would be made available. She said this was an issue addressed in previous discussions with the opposition, especially the AFC.

Meantime, Ramjattan disclosed that a draft of the AFC’s Intellectual Property Rights Bill is ready and should be laid in the National Assembly soon. “We should be laying that as early as possible,” he said. He noted that it was consistent with international regimes. This legislation has also long been called for by local artistes and musicians but despite promises, the government is yet to pass such laws. “We simply have to lay that (in the House) now,” Ramjattan said.

The AFC leader also noted that the Whistle-blowing and political parties financing legislation are being drafted but they are facing some hurdles. He said that in terms of the political parties financing Bill, some work has been done but there is still a far way to go. Ramjattan disclosed that they are examining similar precedent legislation from India and Australia and noted that the work is difficult. “We need some research assistance,” he stated adding that there are a number of things that have to be done but the work is necessary.

In relation to whistle-blowing legislation, the laws in other countries are also being examined but Ramjattan pointed out that the situation in each country is different and they would want the local Bill to capture all the possible scenarios. He stressed that while they have to “internationally imitate”, they also have to ensure that the legislation takes care of the peculiarities of the Guyanese situation.

These pieces of legislation require knowledge of the laws and sometimes it is a tedious and time-consuming task and the limited ability to concentrate exclusively on these pieces of legislation is a constraint but before the end of the year, they should be completed, Ramjattan said.

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