Why seek to delay the delivery of information if there is nothing to hide? That’s the question on the minds of a large sector of the population following a move by the sitting government to extend the time for the delivery of information requested under the Freedom Of Information Act. Following a public outcry over the last few days for a delay from 30 days to 90 days for the delivery of information, the Attorney General has backpedalled somewhat, asking lawmakers now of a delay of 45 days instead. This adjustment by the government has not resulted in any change in the public’s position as the same question about other motives remains.
This controversial move has raised eyebrows not only with the man on the street but among business organisations including the media and non-governmental organisations. The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce says it’s unfortunate that such a sensitive issue wasn’t first opened for public consultation. It feels that the public’s input is imperative in any matter that affects stakeholders and the citizenry. In expressing similar sentiments, The Chaguanas Chamber also voiced concern over the Attorney General’s deeper involvement in the request for information. And we wholeheartedly agree with both groups and all citizens calling for a pause on any rush to pass such legislation.
AG Faris Al-Rawi said earlier that he may have underestimated the public’s reaction to the attempt to amend the Freedom Of Information Act to which we ask why? What was the expectation? That the public would sit back and relax over a move to delay the revelation of information that could be of national importance? Or that no one would bat an eye over the fact that this is possibly the only avenue readily available to the man on the street to access information from government sources? And what about the media making requests for data to follow up on news related items that involve state agencies? They could be made to wait for up to 90 days instead of 30 as it now stands.
And this brings us back to our opening statement regarding the delay in revealing info if you don’t have cocoa in the sun. From what we’ve seen on social media, the man on the street views moves like these as ‘sneaky’ or ‘ill-intentioned’. Wanting to change legislation to delay the delivery of information to an entire country because of a claim that a few lawyers are raking in big money for background work is not acceptable. In fact it only serves to make the country look at the government ‘cut-eye’. We support all members of the public as well as business and non-governmental organisations who are calling for a halt to any such move executed in a hasty manner. Let’s open up consultation on this matter of great significance instead of opening up a potential can of worms.