Gov't wants waiting period for Cabinet documents extended from 20 to 70 years

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

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THE Government is seeking to extend the waiting period for public access to some Cabinet documents from 20 to 70 years.

Information about the proposed extension is contained in two documents tabled yesterday by Leader of Government Business Karl Samuda. They are: The Access to Information (Cabinet Document) (Extension of Exemption Period) Order, 2019, and The Access to Information (Cabinet Documents) (Extension of Exemption Period) Order Resolution, 2019.

Samuda tabled the documents on behalf of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who arrived late during yesterday's proceedings. Opposition spokesman on education Ronald Thwaites sought to raise some questions, but Samuda insisted that he await the debate on the resolution, which is likely to be next Tuesday.

The resolution seeks to extend the facility provided in Section 6(2) of the Access to Information Act, which allows for the exemption of an official document that has been in existence for 20 years, “or such shorter or longer period as the minister may specify by order, subject to affirmative action, and seeks to have the order affirmed to exempt these documents from public access for 70 years after they have been in existence”.

The action is guided by Section 15 (1) of the ATI Act, which states that an official document is exempt from disclosure if it is a Cabinet document, that is to say (a) it is a Cabinet Submission, Cabinet Note or other document created for the purpose of submission to the Cabinet for its consideration and it has been or is intended to be submitted; or a Cabinet Decision, or other official record of any deliberation of the Cabinet.

The types of documents currently exempted from disclosure are those pertaining to: national security, defence, international relations; law enforcement; legal privileges; the national economy; Government's deliberative processes; business affairs of others (trade secrets, etc); personal privacy; and heritage sites.

However, it does not apply to: (a) documents appended to a Cabinet document that contains material of a purely factual nature or reports, studies, tests or surveys of a scientific or technical nature; or (b) a document by which a decision of the Cabinet has been officially published.

People seeking information through the Access to Information Act can appeal to a tribunal, however, if they believe that the information is being unfairly withheld.

The Access to Information Act, which was passed in June, 2002, gives citizens, and other persons, a general legal right of access to official government documents, which would otherwise be inaccessible.

By recognising and upholding this right, the Act aims to reinforce fundamental democratic principles vital to more transparent Government – greater accountability, increased public influence on and participation in national decision-making and informed knowledge of the functioning of the Administration.


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