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Saturday 21 September 2019
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Charles hits Govt on FOIA debate

File photo: Naparima MP Rodney Charles jumps to his feet during a sitting of Parliament. Photo by Roger Jacob
File photo: Naparima MP Rodney Charles jumps to his feet during a sitting of Parliament. Photo by Roger Jacob

NAPARIMA MP Rodney Charles today told Newsday a public outcry had made the Government back down from changing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the House of Representatives on Monday, but he advised the public still to be on their guard about itsintentions.

While listed on the order paper, the bill was not debated in the House Monday, when a battery of government speakers discussed a bill to stop the funding of nuclear, chemical and biological (NCB) weapons. At the end, House Leader Camille Robinson-Regis said the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill that includes the FOIA measures would be debated on Friday, including new changes.

But as of Tuesday morning, Parliament told Newsday these were not available.

Charles was scathing. “I get the sense the backlash from the public forced the Government to come with amendments, but this won’t reveal their true intentions on the bill. Be wary.”

He reckoned the Government still wants to curtail freedom of express and the public’s right to know what is happening.

“The amendments won’t reflect their true intentions, but are just an accommodation to criticism from a range of NGOs, the Law Association and past attorneys general.”

Charles noted that under the FOIA, the Government had recently been forced by the Privy Council to release two witness statements to UNC activist Ravi Maharaj probing why the Government ditched a lawsuit against former Petrotrin head the late Malcolm Jones over the failed World GTL (gas to liquids) deal. Disclosure under the FOIA should have been the norm for a government whose 2015 manifesto had spoken of transparency and accountability, Charles said.

Saying the FOIA bill needs a three-fifths special majority, Charles vowed, “We will not support it.”

Asked about yesterday’s sitting, Charles hit out: “It was a gimmick and game to obscure their true intentions, to increase the Prime Minister’s pension and limit the population’s rights under the FOIA.”

He asked why the Government hadn’t just come out straight in the House and admitted to a climb-down because of the public’s reaction.

Charles complained that the Government had brought the bill last Friday for debate three days later and had now pushed it to this Friday.

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