Hang up on jokey TSTT case

TSTT House, Port of Spain. File photo
TSTT House, Port of Spain. File photo

FRIDAY’S ruling by the Court of Appeal that the Telecommunication Services (TSTT) is a public body subject to the Freedom of Information Act was an inevitable outcome which now provides clarification on a matter that should never have required clarification in the first place.

At a time of great economic strain, this case was a flagrant waste of TSTT’s scarce resources and a manifestly transparent attempt to frustrate the ability of people to get information.

Two years ago, activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj asked the company to disclose rudimentary things like: What are the salaries of executive management? What stipend is paid to directors?

In reply, TSTT claimed it was not a public body and therefore, the freedom of information legislation did not apply to it.

To his credit Mr Balgobin-Maharaj took the matter to court.

At the High Court, lawyers acting for TSTT sought to advance an argument that defied common sense: the company is not owned or controlled by the State and, therefore, it is not a public authority.

Except, as the Court of Appeal has now inevitably found, the company is owned and controlled by the State and is a public authority.

But not only did it state the obvious, but the court on Friday also disclosed that lawyers for TSTT had asked the court to ignore matters on the public record. Do not consider a list of directors published in the Gazette, they said.

Not only did TSTT wish to control the flow of information under the legislation on the basis of legal sophistry, but it also sought to get the judges to close their eyes to matters already public.

That dangerous overreach, which has been soundly rejected by the court, betrays a worrying attitude to freedom of information more generally in this country.

There are some who may perceive Mr Balgobin-Maharaj’s views and activities as aligned with the interests of the Opposition. His lead counsel was former UNC attorney general Anand Ramlogan (who is, incidentally, an expert on the freedom of information law).

But it should not matter who is asking for the information. Nor should it matter why they want it.

Either we have a Freedom of Information Act or we don't. If there is a desire to repeal the legislation, then the government of the day should do so and face the consequences at the next general election.

It was always absurd for Cabinet ministers to claim TSTT is not a public body and therefore not subject to Cabinet oversight. Such a jokey argument cannot be made after two successive Supreme Court rulings on this matter.

The Government must not sanction an appeal of this case.


"Hang up on jokey TSTT case"

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