Sixteen years after it was passed into law, there is still no clear indication of when the Freedom of Information Act will come into effect in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
And at last week’s meeting of Parliament, MP for West Kingstown, Daniel Cummings, asked Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves why this is the case.
Cummings, an opposition lawmaker, also asked Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, Legal Affairs, Grenadines Affairs and Energy, to say whether there are plans to bring the law into force, and if not, then why not?
He also asked the prime minister to say when the public can expect the law to come into force, if the government intends to give effect to it.The prime minister said there are two acts that are “inextricably bound together”, the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act, which were both passed roughly the same time in 2003 and none of them have been put into effect.
“The reason for this is that shortly after the passage of the act, I was informed by the chambers of the Attorney General that there is an attempt to coordinate across the region, the OECS and indeed in CARICOM, similar type legislation and that there are changes which would be required to these existing laws,” Gonsalves said.
He said that those who are “familiar with the territory of trying to coordinate these things would know that they take an inordinately long time.
“That is the reason why — that they have not been proclaimed. The government is still interested and I, personally, am still interested in both of those bills and I want to see the regional bill come to fruition. I have been advised that they are being worked upon and at the appropriate time I will report to the house as I usually do on these matters,” Gonsalves said.
In a follow-up question, Cummings said that 16 years is an inordinately long time to await a regional bill.
He asked the prime minister why it is that unlike other Caribbean countries that have passed this bill, SVG cannot go ahead with its legislation and await any revision that would come from a Caribbean approach, given the importance of the legislation.
He also asked the prime minister why there was such an inordinately long silence on the part of the government, having passed the bill.
“In fact, it is the first time in my life I am hearing an explanation for this delay,” Cummings said.
However, Gonsalves said he answered the question and the supplementary question was the expression of an opinion.
But House Speaker Jomo Thomas said that Cummings had asked a specific question regarding why SVG can’t go forward with the legislation it has passed.
Gonsalves, however, said: “I refer to the very answer I gave, Mr. Speaker.”
Cummings then chuckled and said: “It is the same thing with the other critical piece of legislation why we can’t have it — Integrity in Public Life bill; the same reason.
“When you say they don’t intend to pass it, they question you. They have no intention of passing it.
“That’s very clear; very clear. They are afraid of it like how the devil ‘fraid holy water.”
The Freedom of Information Bill was passed in the Vincentian Parliament in October 2003.
It received Royal Assent from then Governor-General, Sir Frederick Ballantyne, on the Dec. 15, 2003.
However, the Freedom of Information Act 2003 is yet to come into force.