Wolmer’s boy wins ATI essay contest
Wolmer’s Boys’ School sixth-former Oshnel Bryan is the Access to Information Unit’s 2016/2017 National High School Essay Competition winner, having defeated 21 other entrants from 16 schools across the country.
Nastacia Linton of William Knibb Memorial High School placed second, while Juzel Lloyd of Wolmer’s Girls’ School placed third at the awards ceremony at Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday. In addition to trophies, certificates and gift items from the ATI Unit , which all three students received, Bryan won $50,000, Linton was awarded $30,000, and Lloyd received $20,000 cash.
They were asked to write on the topic: “The Access to Information Act is playing a significant role in improving accountability and transparency in Jamaica”.
Bryan’s essay examined instances in which the Act helped to advance public probe into issues of corruption and outlined ways in which the public can make use of the provision. Two examples of such instances to which he made reference were the health sector audit of 2015, which showed a critical shortage of emergency and other medical equipment at public health facilities, among other things; and the National Housing Trust’s 2013 purchase of the Outameni property located in Orange Grove, Trelawny, at a cost of $180 million.
The ATI Unit’s Public Education Manager Prudence Barnes, who was a member of the judging panel, told the
Jamaica Observer on Friday that Bryan’s essay stood out from among the others because it was “well thought out, well organised, well structured, and well researched”.
“It had some very mature and sightful analysis and it received consistently high marks from the judges,” she said, later explaining that judges — drawn from the legal field as well as the ATI responsible officers in various ministries, were not privy to the contestants’ names during the marking of the essays.
Bryan said he was elated to have won and thanked the ATI unit for the opportunity.
In her remarks, senior legal officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Shereika Hemmings-Allison, who has oversight responsibility for the ATI Unit, noted that the OPM was ever mindful that a transparent and accountable society must be a key pillar upon which Jamaica builds a prosperous nation marked by robust economic growth and a fair and equitable society for all citizens.
Hemmings-Allison said: “It is for this reason that improved governance, including transparency in Government, is one of the goals outlined in Vison 2030 National Development Plan, which is a blueprint for Jamaica’s development. Additionally, earlier this year Prime Minister Andrew Holness, while reiterating his vision for economic growth, pledged to promote an inclusive, prosperous society and to eradicate social and economic inequality.
“Access to information no doubt plays an integral role in achieving this vision. That is why I am pleased that our youth continue to get on board with ATI,” she said.
She congratulated the competition’s entrants and winners, noting that the topic was specifically crafted to elicit knowledge of the ATI Act, its achievements and challenges, as well as to encourage further research and analysis of the legislation’s role in changing the Jamaican landscape from one of secrecy.
“Indeed, through their work the students continue to articulate their understanding of how Jamaica can progress as a country and give suggestions on strengthening our democracy, while promoting a more prosperous nation founded on the noble principles of transparency and accountability,” said Hemmings-Allison.
Senior education officer in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Paul Ashley represented minister of state in the Ministry of Education Youth and Information Floyd Green.
In the message on Green’s behalf, Ashley noted that the essay competition was a great vehicle to encourage an informed citizenry.
“Many times, we join the chorus (of voices) condemning corruption and a lack of transparency in public life based on feelings and long-standing perceptions. When we take the trouble to find out how we can get the information we need, it helps us develop a better understanding of the systems and policies that govern public life, and thereby reduce cynicism and distrust,” he said.
Observing increased access to information due to technology and other factors, Minister Green further urged people to use information responsibly.
Chairman of the Youth Advisory Council of Jamaica and Jamaica House fellow Aubrey Stewart encouraged the youth to use information to effect positive change in their personal lives and community.
Noting that information could be used for good and for bad, Stewart added: “For too long we have waited for change. This will come only when you take information that you receive from various speakers here today and convert it into action.”
Sherona Forester, herself a Jamaica House fellow and the 2016 Rhodes Scholar gave her advice in the form of song — Donnie McClurkin’s Yes You Can, Celine Dion’s Power of the Dream, Jamaican favourite Rise Up, and Strive by Shinehead.
Competition judges were Brenda Smith, director of documentation and access services in the Ministry of Justice; Dr Marline Hines, director of documentation and access Services in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information; Christal Parris-Campbell, legal intern in the Office of the Prime Minister, and member of the Youth Advisory Council of Jamaica; Shereika Hemmings-Allison; and Prudence Barnes.