Govt put on blast for ignoring Freedom of Info Act

Wednesday, 1st July 2015 by VINO.com

former Complaints Commissioner Elton Georges said the documents gathering dust

Mr Elton Georges has raised the whip over the backs of legislators for failing to pay attention to some key documents necessary for the public to access certain information at free will in the name of transparency, especially as it refers to the Freedom of Information Act that has been on the shelves since 2005.Mr Georges, speaking at an exit and welcome press conference on June 30, 2015 at the Office of the Complaints Commissioner, said he continues to take the view that freedom of information is an essential part of a modern governmental system and that the Virgin Islands should look at the drafted information law which has been gathering dust for some years now.

Broken promises

The National Democratic Party government has made several promises to bring the Freedom of Information Act before the House of Assembly but has not done so. Instead it quickly brought the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, 2014 which has been criticised by certain sections of the VI as well as the international community as seeking to suppress online media houses and put journalists in jail.

“It has been just sitting around in drawers, it needs to be reviewed now because I am sure that we have moved on from then and there might be need for changes to that. I don’t know whether that’s been done but as you said (a reporter) it has been promised in a Speech from the Throne and so one hopes that it is going to really happen soon,” said Mr Georges.

He noted, however, that implementation is going to be the test. “It’s a feature of a lot of the complaints I have dealt with and the investigations that I have done, that a main failure in our government system is that we pass laws and then we do not implement them, we do not put in the where-with-all to make sure that it happens.”

Mr Georges further said that government often leave out what he refers to as the infrastructure to support the carrying out of laws made by governments. “And that therefore leads to a lot of unhappiness and also to injustice and frustration for various kinds and unlawful behaviour.”

According to the first Complaints Commissioner of the Virgin Islands, the government needs to be careful when passing the Freedom of Information Act without the where-with-all in place to implement it otherwise, “You are going to find that people are going to be sending in their requests under the Freedom of Information Act for information and months later they are going to be frustrated. They are not going to get it because the government has not looked at that side. What will it take to make sure we do what is promised in this act?”

One of the other important things under this act noted by Mr Georges is an accessible public record system. “It is discouraging that the archives, the Archives and Public Records Management Act, which was passed in 2011, has not yet been brought into force. So it’s not yet effectively the law.”