Friday, September 16, 2011

Access to Information Bill passed

The National Assembly yesterday passed the Access to Information Bill while deferring the passage of the Public Utilities Bill and the Telecommunications Bill – both aimed at liberalizing the telecoms sector -for next week Thursday. Prime Minister Sam Hinds moved the second reading of the Access to Information Bill, which had been referred to a Special Select Committee for consideration and report. The Bill sets out a practical regime of right to information for persons to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the government and public authorities, and for the appointment of the Commissioner of Information.
“This Bill is a good faith effort by Guyana. It provides a framework within our capacity and it goes beyond [what obtains in other countries in the region],” said PPP/C Member of Parliament Gail Teixeira, as she argued in defence of the Bill to empty Opposition benches.
She said that what Guyana has done with its legislation can be amended over time as needed. She said that the various attempts by the Opposition to discredit the legislation are just red herrings.
Teixeira said that the legislation lays a good foundation for access to information and reiterated the PPP/C’s commitment to making public all records and reports as a matter of policy.
The Bill was read for the first time by Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee in June. According to the Bill, the Commissioner of Information, who will be appointed by the President, will be a person of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.
The Bill, will however, pose some conventions with regard to what information is available and what will not be available.
It will also impose the process of how to apply for detailed information as well as what rights an individual can enjoy as a result of an application. The FOI Bill also boasts penalties which will be applied to an individual if information is withheld or destroyed.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly deferred the adoption of a motion on the report of a Special Select Committee on the Public Utilities Commission (Amendment) Bill and the Telecommunications Bill 2011, thereby deferring also the third readings and passage of these pieces of legislation. The two bills are not unrelated as they seek to bring changes to the telecommunications landscape, thereby opening up the field for greater competition and lower rates.

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