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Tuesday 22 October 2019
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COP hits FOIA bill

Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan
Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan

CONGRESS of the People (COP) leader Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan said a future COP government would reverse the bill to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) amendments now before Parliament, as she hit the Government for stopping a thrust towards open government she had once launched as former minister of public administration.

“The current administration through its deeds and actions has significantly eroded the progress achieved in accountability and transparency for this country,” her statement said.

She lamented the bill lengthens the waiting time for FOIA requests and gives a political appointee, the Attorney General, influence as to whether to grant or deny such a request.

This undermines independent institutions and their decision-making, Seepersad-Bachan argued.

She said the Government should instead have advanced open government and open data agendas.

“Whereas the FOI involves the reactive disclosure of government information to a single individual or a group in response to a specific request, open government is the proactive disclosure of government information to all citizens without the need for requests.”

She said open government says all government information should be publicly available unless there are compelling reasons to protect it.

“It propels the shift in the democratic process from representative government to participatory government in allowing not only for citizens to elect legislators to govern but to actively help them govern.”

Seepersad Bachan recalled as a minister she had aggressively promoted an Open Government National Action Plan 2014-2016, with assistance from the Inter American Development Bank. TT became the first Caricom country in the 66-nation-member Open Government Partnership, which makes governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.

She alleged the Government stymied many initiatives of this agenda, including those to move the Extractive Industries Initiative to the next phase, establish an open government data portal and open up government data sets.

“To add insult to injury, this administration now seeks to undermine the FOI.

“A COP government will not only reverse these amendments but will move to strengthen the FOIA and aggressively pursue the implementation of the open government and open data agendas.”

Seepersad-Bachan said all energy contracts and licences, plus Cabinet notes and minutes, unless classified, would be placed in the public domain.

“This will lift the veil of secrecy, boost investor confidence and facilitate participatory governance in our nation. The time has come for a system that is not only transparent but inclusive.”

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