Basseterre, St. Kitts, May 04, 2018 (SKNIS): The Freedom of Information Bill that had its second reading in National Assembly on Thursday, May 03, was endorsed by Senator the Honourable Wendy Phipps as she threw her full support behind the Bill that was moved by the Honourable Vincent Byron, Attorney General.
“Essentially the Freedom of Information Bill seeks among other matters to protect the public’s rights to request information from (a) the government and (b) state agencies and in keeping with the amendments proffered by the mover of the Bill to remove from that list information that is being sought from private bodies…” said the senator. “The Bill, Mr. Speaker, is also clear that the government and state agencies are to be encouraged to voluntarily publish without prompting under the law such information as annual reports with financial statements wherever possible and also statements of the goods and services provided by statutory agencies to the public.”
Senator Phipps added that it is clearly outlined in the Bill that there are certain types of information held by public bodies or state agencies that would not be disclosed by the general public. Such information includes matters of “national security; health and safety; court proceedings; trade secrets and confidential business information; intellectual property rights; international relations between countries; and the protection of privacy for third parties if their disclosure consent is missing”.
Minister Phipps spoke to a number of benefits to be recognized by the passage of any Freedom of Information legislation in a jurisdiction.
“One, greater transparency in government and state agencies; two, the ability to have a more informed and educated electorate prior to selecting a government of one’s choice; three, raising the bar of openness and accountability in government and also public bodies; four, lowering the likelihood of corruption in government and by state agencies; five, the appointment of information officers who have been assigned across ministries would also ensure that the agencies filings, storage and archiving systems for records are uniformed and in order at all times…,” said Senator Phipps.
She expounded on the point of having individual information officers attached to ministries and noted that this would ensure that they remain gainfully employed. She added that keeping workers employed for a full work day falls in line with the government’s drive to enhance the public sector.
“The Team Unity Government has continued to articulate the need to improve the public sector; to improve efficiencies in the public sector; to look at productivity, performance and pay systems in tandem because they are not mutually exclusive, and in so doing, ensure that persons who are employed in the public sector have full work day of work in front of them for the full time salaries that they are being paid,” said Minister Phipps. “And under the present circumstances it is hardly likely that for the time being the appointment of an individual information officer to each ministry is going to make that person fully occupied for an entire month that that salary has to be paid by the tax payers of this country.”
Senator Phipps wished the Bill a safe passage through the Honourable House as it will redound to the benefit of all.