Tue | Dec 12, 2017

PAJ renews call for amendments to Access to Information Act

Published:Monday | December 4, 2017 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Senator Ruel Reid, Minister of Education, Youth and Information greets Dionne Jackson Miller, President of the Press Association of Jamaica while Karen Findlay looks on during a courtesy call by PAJ executives at the Ministry's Heroes Circle, Kingston office last Thursday.

Information Minister Ruel Reid has assured the executive body of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) that he will be taking the long-awaited amendments to the Access to Information (ATI) Act to Cabinet in order to have a clear policy directive from the Government on the legislation.

Reid's comments came on Thursday during a courtesy call paid on him at his Heroes' Circle, Kingston, ministry by the PAJ's executive as part of its annual national Journalism Week activities.

PAJ President Dionne Jackson Miller used the opportunity to once again express to Reid, this time in writing, the lingering concerns within the media fraternity as it relates to the ATI.

Jackson Miller stated that the PAJ had urged successive governments to act on the recommendations made by a joint select committee for legislative improvements from as far back as 2011, but nothing had been brought to Parliament.

 

Not on the agenda

 

Responding, Reid said, "The truth is, we haven't been able to discuss it at Cabinet yet, so I need to put it on the agenda to ensure we have some action before we meet again next year."

Reid added that he was open to meeting with the PAJ outside of journalism week to discuss other issues.

Passed in June 2002, the ATI gives citizens and other persons a general legal right of access to official government documents that would otherwise be inaccessible. By recognising and upholding this right, the act aims to reinforce fundamental democratic principles vital to improved, more transparent government; greater accountability of government to its people; increased public influence on and participation in national decision making; and informed knowledge of the functioning of Government.

Speaking in August, Jackson Miller noted that Section 38 of the ATI Act states that it "shall be reviewed from time to time by committees of both Houses of Parliament" and that "the first such review shall be conducted not later than two years after the appointed day".

She further noted that a review had taken place, though late.

"The act came into effect in 2004. It was not until 2008, however, that both Houses of Parliament passed resolutions calling for the establishment of a joint select committee to examine the act and make recommendations arising from the review.

The PAJ president argued that the joint committee made some important recommendations even though it could have gone further to improve the act.

"Nevertheless, enactment of those initial recommendations would give us a much better system than we now have," she said.