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Tuesday 10 December 2019
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Kamla: Govt forced to ‘walk back’ on FOIA request deadline

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi addresses Parliament on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill on Friday. PHOTO BY KERWIN PIERRE
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi addresses Parliament on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill on Friday. PHOTO BY KERWIN PIERRE

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has cited widespread public condemnation as well as pressure from the Opposition during debate on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as the reasons behind Government’s “walk-back” on one amendment to the FOIA.

During debate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill, 2019 on Friday, the Prime Minister said the current 30-day time frame to provide information under the FOIA would remain unchanged. The Government was seeking to change the period from 30 days to 45 days.

However, the Prime Minister said the amendment compelling the public authority to refer decisions to decline FOIA requests to the Attorney General, who would make a determination within 30 days and advise the authority whether the applicant is entitled to access a requested document, would remain. In a media statement on Friday, Persad-Bissessar said this is unacceptable as it is “still an extension of time for a person to access information to up to 60 days.”

“In spite of the Prime Minister’s apparent climb down on the time period for processing FOIA requests, the amendment compelling public authorities to report to the Attorney General is unacceptable and the Opposition cannot support this bill.”She observed that under Part 56.10(4) of the Rules of the Supreme Court, notices of all judicial review proceedings are served on the AG’s office or the AG’s attorneys.

“So contrary to what the AG would now have us believe, in all of those matters which the AG referred to that were brought before the courts pursuant to the FOIA, he would have been served notice of same and would have been involved from a very early stage,” she said.

“Having notice of these proceedings at such an early stage would allow the AG room to intervene early in FOIA requests. Therefore, there is no need for him to become involved at the level of the authorities’ refusal of an FOIA.”

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