IF the law had allowed it, the Attorney General (AG) might well have allowed the release of two witness statements on the Government’s decision to drop the prosecution of former Petrotrin chairman, the late Malcolm Jones, over the World GTL (gas to liquids) fiasco, said Minister in the AG’s Office Fitzgerald Hinds.
He made the point in the Senate yesterday, speaking in support of the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill to refer a public body’s refusal to supply details to an applicant under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the AG for a second opinion.
He said someone had decided not to show the two witness statements to Petrotrin’s senior counsel, but that had the AG seen them (and had the law allowed it), things might have been different.
“I see no reason to delete clause seven,” Hinds said. “We are adding another tier, a second look, by the AG.”
He justified initial plans to raise the 30-day limit for public bodies to reply to FOIA requests by saying, “The Government was trying to provide extra time to avoid court and costs.”
Hinds said the reality of having to comply with a 30-day limit was of many administrative delays, such as having to track down public employees on vacation or living in far-flung areas .
He alleged that a virtual industry had developed by individuals, in cahoots with certain attorneys, filing hundreds of FOIA requests and. if dissatisfied. going to court afterwards.
“There is abuse. Some people are making a living out of it.”
Hinds revealed he had filed a FOIA question to Parliament on what questions the Parliament
gets under the FOIA.
“When you see the questions (the applicants) concoct, for all kinds of motivation, it’s amazing.”
Hinds made the point that the ex-inmate support group Vision on Mission receives pubic funding and so is deemed a public body accountable under the FOIA.
On the bill’s proposed hike in the pensions of top office-holders, Hinds said that since 1995, the Jamaican Retiring Allowances Act had likewise included a housing allowance in the calculation of pension.
He lamented poverty among retired public officials, including a five-term MP now surviving on $6,000 a month. Quoting VS Naipaul, he lamented that keeping one’s morality in public office led to punishment (in one’s personal pension), but said many individuals now opposed to the bill’s pension hikes themselves do not know when a knock on the door will be for them (alluding to corruption).
“After four years in office, not one of our citizens could point a finger at my (PNM) colleagues and accuse us of interfering with the public purse,” he declared.