Guyana FOI Law Not In Effect; US Urges Action

8 February 2013

The 16–month-old Guyana freedom of information law is not yet operational and the lag-time is getting more attention.

The government has yet to declare the law in effect and appoint an information commissioner, the steps that trigger the law’s implementation, according to persons familiar with the process.

The law was passed Sept. 15, 2011 and signed Sept. 27, 2011, by former President Bharrat Jagdeo. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)  Under the law, the government decides when it should go into effect. The information commissioner is charged with quite a variety of start-up duties, including publishing a statement about the particulars of the organization, the categories of documents maintained, the materials prepared for inspection, and the particulars for making requests.

In a statement to FreedomInfo.org, the U.S. embassy in Guyana urged implementation, stating, “We encourage the Government of Guyana to put the Bill into effect and appoint a Commissioner of Information to effectively put this legislation into action.”

A leading anti-corruption group in Guyana and a committee of the Organization of American States also recently have called for implementation.

Efforts to obtain comments from the Guyana government were unsuccessful, notwithstanding the apparent willingness to help by the Guyanese ambassador to Washington.

The U.S. government comment in full:

–          The United States believes that the U.S. Government and its citizens should work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.  Openness strengthens our democracy and promotes efficiency and effectiveness in government.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what the U.S. government is doing.

–          We encourage other governments around the world to establish legal frameworks and take appropriate action to further transparency and accountability, including creating lawful mechanisms to disclose information rapidly, in forms that the public can readily find and use.-

–          We believe that legislation for Freedom of Information/Access to Information in Guyana is an issue for the Guyanese people and Guyanese institutions to develop.

–          We applaud the Government of Guyana for creating this legislation to give its citizens the right to “access information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government and public authorities.”

–           We encourage the Government of Guyana to put the Bill into effect and appoint a Commissioner of Information to effectively put this legislation into action. 

An OAS committee in January pointed out that Guyana, which had been urged in 2006 to pass a FOI law, has yet to establish the mechanisms for the 2011 law.

The matter also came up in December in the context of Guyana’s poor performance in an international corruption ranking.

 In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012, Guyana is listed among countries rated as having a serious corruption problem, with a score of 28 out of 100 points and a ranking of 133 out of 176 countries surveyed. Guyana’s score was below that of every other country in the Caribbean except for Haiti.

Presidential Advisor on Governance Gail Teixeira discounted the report, saying, “It is expected, I assume, that they are fair but you must remember that Transparency International is a non-empirical survey not empirical and that is the issue,”

The Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI) issued a statement saying: “Perceptions aside, there are serious institutional, administrative and judicial failures which continue to facilitate widespread corruption in the country.” Among other things, TIGI called for the strengthening and operationalization of the Access to Information Act. 

Vice President of TIGI, Dr. Anand Goolsarran, was quoted as listing many actions for the government to take, including the appointment off a “competent and independent enough” Integrity Commission, the establishment of Public Procurement Commission, enactment of laws on campaign financing, implementation of anti-corruption and whistle-blowing legislation and the enforcement of existing anti-corruption legislation by “investigating and prosecuting the corrupt,” according to media accounts

Searches online found little  media coverage of the FOI law in the aftermath of its passage more than 16 months ago. In October a commentary in Caribbean News Now by Ray Chickrie and Shabnam Alli questioned the lack of information provided about various foreign trips of President Donald Ramotar. “What has become of the Freedom of Information Act? Why is it when Guyana’s president and ministers of government undertake official travel to attend international meetings, the Guyanese people are always kept in the dark?

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