QUESTIONS are being asked about the Government’s Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill, 2019.
Raising them are former head of the public service Reginald Dumas and Senior Counsel Martin Daly.
Both men posed several questions related to the legislation, which the Government has laid in Parliament and which has been critcised by several sectors of society.
The bill not only seeks to amend the FOIA, but also proposes to raise the pensions of top officials, create a tax amnesty, allow national insurance exemptions, create Central Bank duties to the Finance Ministry and affect the status of non-profit organisations.
“Why would the Minister of Finance now wish to have information on the number and salaries of bank officials, the bank’s organisational structure, and, more broadly, 'such other matters relating to the employment of staff as the minister thinks fit'? Is it the intention of the Government to move towards having the Central Bank become a department of the Government?” are among the questions asked by Dumas and Daly.
"Why is a government which says it is committed to transparency proposing to make it more difficult for citizens to access information from official sources? If the Freedom of Information Act has not over the years worked as well as hoped, would it not be more logical to identify its operational flaws and seek to correct them rather than simply grasp an advantage for the State by extending the period for replies to certain requests from 30 days to effectively 180 days?
“We remain with an overall impression that legislative craftiness and stealth are at work, given the haste with which this legislation is being treated, and when one considers the significance of the items thrown together as a miscellany of provisions,” both men said.
The Law Association has also asked the Attorney General to postpone debate on the bill for consultation to take place on the proposed amendments to the FOIA, while former AG Ramesh Lawrence Mahaaj, who is credited with piloting the FOIA legislation, has also warned of a plan to mount a public campaign to stop the Government from amending the law without public consultation.
He said the proposed amendments were not in the public's interest and will hinder people from accessing government-held information.