Kamla vows to challenge FOIA changes

Any at­tempt by the Gov­ern­ment to sti­fle the pub­lic's free­dom to in­for­ma­tion will be met with court ac­tion, Op­po­si­tion Leader Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar warned on Mon­day night.

Al­though de­bate on the Mis­cel­la­neous Pro­vi­sions (Tax Amnesty, Pen­sions, Free­doms of In­for­ma­tion, Na­tion­al In­sur­ance, Cen­tral Bank and non-prof­it or­gan­i­sa­tions) Bill 2019 had been sched­uled for Par­lia­ment, Per­sad-Bisses­sar took time off to at­tend the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress' Mon­day Night Fo­rum at Na­pari­ma Col­lege in San Fer­nan­do.

There she ac­cused the Gov­ern­ment of dic­ta­to­r­i­al be­hav­iour, ques­tion­ing what mis­deeds it was try­ing to hide dur­ing an elec­tion year.

"What do they have to hide? What are they try­ing to hide?" Per­sad-Bisses­sar asked, say­ing that cit­i­zens have the right to know un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act (FOIA).

Call­ing the bill a mis­match callaloo, Per­sad-Bisses­sar al­so ac­cused the Gov­ern­ment of be­ing sly, say­ing that af­ter rush­ing the Bill to the Par­lia­ment, it had clas­si­fied the suite of leg­is­la­tion as a mon­ey bill.

This would mean that if the Bill reach­es the Sen­ate, the sen­a­tors would be barred from mak­ing amend­ments.

How­ev­er, she said the Con­sti­tu­tion was clear and that a mon­ey bill per­tains to pock­et leg­is­la­tion which in the opin­ion of the Speak­er of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, con­tains on­ly pro­vi­sions deal­ing with mat­ters such the im­po­si­tion or reg­u­la­tion of tax­es, the im­po­si­tion in the pay­ment of debt and the rais­ing of gov­ern­ment fees.

She called on the gov­ern­ment to state how free­dom of in­for­ma­tion qual­i­fied as a mon­ey bill.

The Gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed amend­ments to the FOIA will give pub­lic bod­ies 90 days to re­spond to a re­quest for in­for­ma­tion.

The pre­vi­ous time al­lowed for a re­sponse was 30 days. She said there was nowhere else in the world where the gov­ern­ment has man­dat­ed a 90 day wait for a re­sponse to an FOIA re­quest. The Bill al­so pro­posed that the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al would be the Min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for re­spond­ing to FOIA re­quests.

Al­so in­clud­ed in the Bill was a pro­pos­al to in­crease the salaries and pen­sions of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and judges.

"What is the hur­ry?" she asked.

She said the while Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert is seek­ing to rush the leg­is­la­tion so that a tax amnesty can be­gin on June 15, she rub­bished his in­tent, say­ing that the start date fell on a Sat­ur­day and noth­ing would com­mence un­til the fol­low­ing Mon­day.

"This is in fact, that tax amnesty is a smoke­screen for tak­ing away from the free­dom of in­for­ma­tion and to take your mind away from the hefty salaries and pen­sion in­creas­es that they're go­ing to give them­selves."

She not­ed that there were many civ­il so­ci­ety bod­ies which called on the Gov­ern­ment to hold its hand on the changes to the FOIA and con­sult the pub­lic first.

She was par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal of At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Faris Al-Rawi, in whose San Fer­nan­do West con­stituen­cy the po­lit­i­cal meet­ing was held, and vowed to make it a UNC seat in 2020.

"You see this 2×4 lawyer, I beat you once in the court, I will beat you again," Per­sad-Bisses­sar said.

Reporter: Kevon Felmine

 

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