Guyana Government Tables Long-Promised FOI Bill

20 June 2011

The Guyana government has proposed a long-promised freedom of information bill in the National Assembly.

The bill was referred a special select committee, according to media accounts such as one in Demerara Waves.

Demerara Waves reported:

Friday’s introduction was the first time the opposition parties were seeing the bill and AFC’s Sheila Holder said they were glad the bill was finally before the House. She added that they will now have to compare it with the Freedom of Information Bill AFC Leader Raphael Trotman had tabled in the National Assembly years ago to see its merits and demerits. The government had indicated that it would not support the AFC bill and debate had not proceeded on it.

(See previous reports.)

Explanation of Bill

“This bill provides for setting out a practical regime of right to information for persons to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the government and public authorities and for the appointment of the Commissioner of Information,” an explanatory memorandum states, according to the news report.

It would all Guyanese and non-Guyanese to access official documents with some exceptions.

Exempt documents include Cabinet documents, those likely to prejudice the defense of the State, international relations documents and those relating to law enforcement, legal professional privileges and trade secrets.

According to the bill, “documents affecting the economy, commercial affairs, the operations of a public authority and documents to which secrecy provisions apply” are also exempt.

However, it states that “despite a document being exempt, the Commissioner of Information shall give access to the document where there is reasonable evidence that where giving access to the document is justified in the public interest having regards both to any benefit and to any damage that may arise from doing so.

Additionally, the act would not apply to the president, a commission of inquiry issued by the president or a public authority if the president so determines.

Meanwhile, the draft law also seeks to enshrine the media’s right to protect their sources. “Notwithstanding any provision of this Act, where a request is made for access to a document held by the media, the media shall not be required to give access under this Act to any part of the document which discloses the source of any information obtained in the course of making any programme or broadcast,” it states.

The commissioner would have  60 days in which to approve or deny a request and must provide reasons for the decision. That individual is to be appointed by the president and shall be a “person of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.”

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