The public discussion on the Access to Information Act organised by the Guyana Bar Association was both useful and timely, particularly in the light of public calls for the disclosure of contracts entered into by the Government of Guyana.
However, the reported guidance in the media about the eligibility of persons to apply to the Commissioner of Information for disclosure is disturbing. The report states that an applicant must either be a Guyanese or a person domiciled in Guyana and adds that a company cannot be domiciled here, nor can an NGO. It is a matter of elementary law, not requiring the citing of any case authorities, that a company does indeed have a domicile. And in so far as persons are concerned, the Interpretation and General Clauses Act defines a ‘person’ inclusively as “any body of persons corporate or unincorporate …” (emphasis mine).
It is clear therefore, that companies and NGOs, whether incorporated or not, may apply for information under the Access to Information Act. Moreover, any formalistic and regimented approach to the Act would be inconsistent with the objective of the Act which is to facilitate access to information by the public and “promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government and public authorities”.
So that persons are not unduly deterred from seeking information under the Access to Information Act, the Guyana Bar Association may wish to correct any wrong impressions conveyed by the media report.
I hope too that the Bar Association took the opportunity to raise the difficulties which members of the public have had in seeking information through the Commissioner of Information and the spurious and facile grounds for refusing to deal with applications.
Again though, I congratulate the Bar Association on the initiative.