First Look

PAJ calls for action on ATI recommendations



Press Association Jamaica Of Jamaica | 2015-05-14 00:00:00

Following its recent focus on the Access to Information Act for World Press Freedom Day, the Press Association of Jamaica is urging the government to follow through on its promise to implement the long-overdue proposed amendments to the legislation tabled in Parliament this legislative year.

The members of the Joint Select Committee which reviewed the Act were appointed in 2008, and the Committee met between March 2009-January 2011. To date, however, its recommendations have not been implemented, and amendments to the legislation have not been tabled in Parliament.

The Committee made a number of important recommendations, including that the ATI Unit should become a statutory body, that the law should be amended to provide for a Code of Practice of Functions and Obligations to address the concern about how access officers are discharging their functions, and that a public interest test be included in the Act. This would allow a balancing exercise to take place, and allow the disclosure of information even in some categories exempt from disclosure, if the public interest in disclosing the information was determined to be greater than the interest in withholding the information.

The Joint Select Committee also recommended the repeal of the Official Secrets Act and its replacement with appropriate legislation.

“Calls to repeal the Official Secrets Act, and for the relevant amendments to be enacted were themes of the comments during the panel discussion,” said PAJ President Dionne Jackson Miller.

“We did take note of the government’s promise that a Cabinet submission will be made and the amendments brought to Parliament this year,” said Jackson Miller. “However, we think that it’s important to add our voice to those calling for the amendments, to ensure the government is aware that there is an interested and active body of civil society monitoring the progress of this legislation.”

“We also heard the assertion by ATI Director Damion Cox, who was one of our panellists, that the ATI Act supersedes the Official Secrets Act in parts. However, participants at our panel discussion strongly expressed concerns that the continued existence of the Official Secrets Act served to intimidate public servants. This concern, coupled with the fact that its repeal was a recommendation of the Joint Select Committee, has led us to believe that it is important to modernize the legislation to negate the culture of fear and secrecy traditionally associated with the Official Secrets Act, and to help send the message that the country is now in a new era of access rather than hiding information from the public,” she said.




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