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    Guyana Bar Association Concerned About Access to Information Bill

    Sep 21, 2011
    During the launch of the Transparency Institute Inc. in Guyana, the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) discussed its concerns about the Access to Information bill with government officials. According to a Demerarawaves.com article, the bill that is expected to be approved by September 27 was drafted after careful review of and modeled after freedom of information (FOI) laws from Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, Canada, and India.

    During the launch of the Transparency Institute Inc. in Guyana, the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) discussed its concerns about the Access to Information bill with government officials. According to a Demerarawaves.com article, the bill that is expected to be approved by September 27 was drafted after careful review of and modeled after freedom of information (FOI) laws from Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, Canada, and India.

    The GBA voiced several concerns about the law, but it noted in particular its concern about its calling for a lone commissioner of information and leaving out whistle-blowing provisions. The article noted that GBA Secretary Christopher Ram questioned why the bill does not provide for FOI officers in each ministry or government department rather than a single commissioner of information (COI) that would be appointed by and answerable to only the president. He explained that having individual officers would allow aggrieved applicants for information to seek redress from the COI rather than having one “information czar.”

    “Under the system recommended by our Bar Association, the role of the Commissioner, if one must still remain, must be elevated to an oversight function,” said Ram. He also added that the appointment should be reviewed by the 65-seat National Assembly. He continued, noting that the office of the commissioner, other staff, and funding should be independently guaranteed by legislation.

    According to the article, Presidential Advisor on Governance Gail Teixeira explained that the decision to have only one COI was to reduce response time in cases where requests are forwarded to the wrong government agency.

    “One of the criticisms of all the FOI bills that do not have a Commissioner of Information is that people spend undue time trying to find which is the right agency to make the request to,” she said in reference to her favor of having a central clearinghouse.

    The GBA also touched on the issue of protecting whistleblowers. Ram spoke about WikiLeaks, noting, “Whatever might have been [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange’s motives for bringing information to light, it is in the public interest that the truth be revealed and therefore the whistleblower should be protected by our national legislation.”

    Teixeira responded by noting that whistleblower laws are complex, and the government is working with the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption and the Organization of American States (OAS). “All the Caribbean countries have asked for assistance in drafting whistleblower legislation. The OAS has done a kind of model which the countries have still asked for technical support to write whistleblower legislation,” she said.

    The article also noted that Teixeira addressed the GBA’s concerns about why the COAI would not be a constitutional or Parliamentary body. Teixeira referred to previous efforts to arrive at consensus on the appointment of rights commissions. “It has been a difficult learning curve, one that we have had good results and some that we are still struggling over,” she said.

    According to the article, the Access to Information bill is expected to be approved by the National Assembly when the current Parliament ends ahead of the general election. 

     

     

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