Regional FOI conference sets precedent

| 27/03/2013

ICO.gif(CNS): For the first time, Caribbean governments and civil society have come together to discuss access to information, public participation in governance, and access to justice at a landmark conference held in Kingston, Jamaica. Representatives from eleven Caribbean countries attended the “Regional Conference on Freedom of Information in the Caribbean: Improving Management for the Environment,” including Information Commissioner, Mrs. Jennifer Dilbert and Deputy Information Commissioner, Mr. Jan Liebaers. “Not only has Cayman passed legislation, but we have legislation that is operational and being enforced by the ICO. We have found that in many Caribbean countries, while they had the law on the books, the law was not enforced and we were able to provide guidance,” said Commissioner Dilbert.

At the close of the two-day conference on 21st March, 2013, governments, civil society, and media announced the decision to launch a Caribbean network on freedom of information to support processes to improve standards for access to information in the region.

Dr. Carolyn Gomes, chairperson of the Access to Information Advisory Stakeholders’ Committee and Executive Director of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) said, “freedom of information is the most powerful tool for ordinary citizens to arm themselves with the information they need to change their lives. Launching this freedom of information network will build opportunities for collaboration, learning and capacity building among information commissioners, civil society and media across the region.”

Countries reviewed the status and effectiveness of freedom of information laws, the number of requests for information being made in each country, and institutional structures for implementation and enforcement. Jamaica is one of seven Caribbean countries (Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Cayman Islands) to have freedom of information laws in force. Five countries have draft laws pending, and Bahamas and Guyana have passed laws but they are not yet in force. Gaps in implementation were noted in Belize, Antigua, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, which have laws that have not yet fully been utilized by the public.

“Freedom of information laws ensure that citizens can access official documents from their governments and give them a voice in decisions that directly impact them and the environment,” said Danielle Andrade, Legal Director of the Jamaica Environment Trust.

The conference was funded by the Cayman Islands Information Commissioner’s Office, The Commonwealth Foundation, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Organisers included the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), World Resources Institute (WRI), The Access Initiative (TAI), Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), The Mona School of Business and Management, and the Access to Information Unit of Jamaica.

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Category: FOI

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