Thu | Oct 1, 2020

16 years later, still no freedom of information law

Published:Tuesday | December 3, 2019 | 12:00 AM


Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says the delay in enacting the Freedom of Information Act here is because St Vincent and the Grenadines is awaiting its regional counterparts as the Caribbean attempts to coordinate similar-type legislation.

Gonsalves was responding to questions in Parliament by an opposition legislator, Daniel Cummings, who sought answers as to why the legislation passed more than a decade ago had not yet come into force. The Freedom of Information Bill was passed in October 2003.

Cummings, the parliamentary representative for West Kingstown, in seeking an update on the legislation, also asked Gonsalves to say whether there were plans to bring the law into force.

But in his response, Gonsalves said that there are two pieces of legislation that are “inextricably bound together”, namely the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act, which were both passed roughly the same time. Neither has been put into effect.

“The reason for this is that shortly after the passage of the act, I was informed by the chambers of the attorney general that there is an attempt to coordinate across the region, the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States), and, indeed, in CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) similar-type legislation and that there are changes which would be required to these existing laws,” Gonsalves said.

The prime minister said that those who are “familiar with the territory of trying to coordinate these things would know that they take an inordinately long time.

“... The government is still interested, and I, personally, am still interested in both of those bills, and I want to see the regional bill come to fruition,” Gonsalves said.

But Cummings said that 16 years is an inordinately long time to await a regional bill and asked Gonsalves why, unlike other Caribbean countries that have passed similar legislation, St Vincent and the Grenadines cannot go ahead.

“In fact, it is the first time in my life I am hearing an explanation for this delay,” Cummings said.

Jamaica, for example, has had an Access to Information Act for a decade.