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Noisy house greets withdrawal of ATI resolution

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The government last night withdrew the controversial Access to Information extension order resolution, but not before noisy exchanges threatened to disrupt proceedings in the House of Representatives.

The fireworks started after Opposition Member Ronald Thwaites (Central Kingston) in a loud outburst challenged the government to withdraw the joint select committee (JSC), which House Leader Karl Samuda, had just announced to review three pieces of access to information legislation — The Access to Information (ATI) Act, the Official Secrets, and the Archives Act.

Samuda said he had heard members on the Opposition benches saying that they were not consulted on the choices. However, he noted that the usual route is for the leader on each side of the House to consult with his members in making the choices.

But, despite being named as one of four Opposition members from the House on the JSC, Thwaites insisted that there was no need for a JSC review, because there was a report already available following the review of the ATI Act in 2011 which contained recommendations not yet added to the Act.

“I am insisting that the next resolve that you call upon this House to make, is for the withdrawal of that misguided resolution that was signed on the fifth of September and we are grateful that we seem to have common cause in that regard,” Thwaites suggested, as the Government MPs shouted down the idea.

The Speaker stopped Thwaites in his tracks, stating that he was in some difficulty understanding where his arguments were leading the House. The Speaker called for order as the noisy exchanges between both sides grew, drowning Thwaites' equally noisy responses.

“There is no need for us to be going on this way,” Charles argued.

But, Thwaites resumed his call, stating that there was no need for a JSC select committee, “because we have one a'ready”.  “Here it is. It is signed,” he said, showing the Speaker a copy of the 2011 report.

“It is to the reproach of this Parliament, that we have done nothing to bring this into effect,” Thwaites, a member of the previous committee, noted.

He said that what was needed was for the House to receive the 2011 report, once again, and to debate it immediately and approve it.

“I am ready to start this debate right now, on this report. It needs no further enquiry,” Thwaites said, holding up a copy of the report.

“Mr Speaker, may I begin the debate on this motion. If not we set a date for next week so we can do it. The public will judge us adversely for any dilatory tactics,” Thwaites insisted. But, Government MPs ignored his proposal.

“You really have no sense, not even partially…Why not now? Why not now? Why not now?...I defend the right of the people to have access, you are the ones who want to take it away,”  he shouted across the aisle, as the Governments voices rose louder in a negative response to his demands.

Eventually, Samuda reminded Thwaites that the new JSC terms of reference went beyond the review of the ATI Act, and actually included reviews of the Official Secrets Act and the Archives Act. The Opposition benches erupted in laughter.

“I can't recall,” Thwaites responded.

“You can't recall because you depended on the false premise that it had been reviewed exhaustively, which it was not. And this is a distinctly different process, because this process will deal with a review of the Official Secrets Act and the Archives Act, for consistency and cohesion with the ATI,” Samuda explained.

“It was obvious that a formal resolution had to be made, and so we have no problem in withdrawing the former resolution to make way for this review," Samuda added.

The House eventually agreed to the withdrawal of the original resolution and the naming of the JSC, which will be chaired by the Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck and will also include: Government MPs — Heroy Clarke, Leslie Campbell, Olivia Grange and Marisa Dalrymple Phillibert; and, Oppostion MPs – Dr Morais Guy, Horace Dalley, Mark Golding and Thwaites.

Dr Guy who is the new Leader of Opposition Business in the House, replacing Phillip Paulwell, rose and welcomed the withdrawal of the resolution and the new motion for a review by the JSC.

“This side supports the (new) motion. This side also recognizes that good sense has prevailed on the part of the Government in withdrawing this motion, and this side, the Opposition, cannot fathom why, in an age of increasing transparency by the populace, that it would seek to extend the time to 70 years,” Dr Guy said.

“Having said that, this side supports it and to say that we will work together to ensure that we have a proper reduction, or a proper period of years which we are more comfortable with,” Dr Guy concluded.

Balford Henry


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