The Access to Information Act became law on July 22, 2002. The Act will be implemented on a phased basis beginning January 5, 2004. The pilot entities are: the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the Cabinet, the Ministry of Finance & Planning, the Ministry of Local Government, Community Development & Sport, Jamaica Information Service and the National Works Agency. The Act will be fully implemented by June 2005.
What does the Act do?
The Access to Information Act gives a general right of access to information to records held by public authorities, except to the extent that such records are protected from disclosure by one of the nine (9) exemptions. The Act seeks to reinforce the basic principles of:
Public participation in national decision-making.
What does the Act cover?
At present, only public authorities are covered by the Act. These include Government Ministries, Agencies and Departments, Statutory Bodies, Parish Councils, wholly-owned Government companies or those in which the Government has more than 50% shares, publicly-funded educational institutions.
What information is available under the Access to Information Act?
All official documents created or held by public authorities not earlier than thirty (30) years.
What are Official Documents?
Official documents are documents in the possession, custody or control of a Government Body and which are connected with its functions.
Who will be granting access?
Permanent Secretaries and other designated officers such as:
What are people’s rights under the Act?
The Access to Information Act(2002) gives persons the legal right to:
See documents held by Government bodies
Ask for personal information to be changed if it is incomplete, out dated, incorrect or misleading
Appeal against a decision not to grant access to a document or amend or annotate a personal record
The Act also requires Government Bodies to make available detailed information about the:
Way they are organized
Functions they have
Kinds of decisions they make
Arrangements they have for public involvement for their work
Documents they hold and how the public may see them
Rules and practices which are used in making decisions which affect the public
Can I see all Official Documents?
No. There are documents which are exempt from disclosure under the Act. These are documents which it is believed should be kept confidential to protect essential public interests or the private/business affairs of others. Similar statutes internationally recognize these concerns as well and make similar provisions.Some exempt documents are however subject to public interest tests. Release of exempt documents may also be achieved through an Order of the Minister responsible for Information or after the expiration of 20 years after their creation, or such shorter or longer period as the Minister may specify by Order.
What information and documents are exempt under the Act?
Exempted material include:
Documents that are currently classified in the interest of national security, defence, foreign policy or international relations.
Cabinet Documents including Cabinet Submissions, Notes and Cabinet Decisions.
Investigative records compiled for law enforcement purposes which would interfere with enforcement proceedings, could endanger a person’s life or safety, deprive a person to a right of fair trial, could disclose the identity of a confidential source, would disclose techniques for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, could facilitate the escape of a person from lawful detention, could jeopardize the security of correctional facilities.
Documents subject to legal privilege the disclosure of which would constitute a breach of confidence, be in contempt of court or infringe the privileges of Parliament.
Documents affecting Jamaica’s national economy including those relating to taxes, duties or rate, interest rates, monetary policy and exchange rate policy.
Various forms of documents that are of a deliberative nature and reveal Government’s deliberative process.
Records containing trade secrets or commercial or financial information relating or persons or organizations.
Documents relating to heritage sites, endangered plant and animal life where the disclosure could lead to the destruction, damage or interference of such sites or resources.
Documents affecting personal privacy. These include personnel and medical records, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
Will I be able to tell if information has been deleted from the records I receive?
Yes, the records will indicate that information has been deleted and the statutory provision that necessitated the deletion.
How do I make an ATI request?
Identify the document you wish to have access to and the government body most likely to have it.Write/phone in/email or fax your request giving as much information as possible about the document in order to help the Officer assigned for those purposes to quickly retrieve it.Include contact information which will allow the Officer responsible for ATI applications to remain in contact with you. This will assist the Officer in obtaining clarifications from you and enable the observance of the timeline (30 days from receipt of Application) prescribed for finding and granting access as the case may be.
What must a government entity do when it gets my request?
Inform you in writing that it has so received it.
Deal with the Application as quickly as possible and inform you of any difficulties being experienced. This will help both parties in possibly coming to a mutual workable understanding, particularly if the request is a complex one (eg. large volume of documents requested) or where it will take longer than the prescribed time allowed within which to find the document.
Inform you within 30 days of receipt of the Application whether or not the information will be disclosed and grant access or inform you of your rights of appeal as the case may be.
Are there fees involved in requesting documents?
Yes, There is a charge for the reproduction of documents. However these fees may be waived, reduced or remitted where such action is justifiable.
In what form do I get information?
Information may be requested and supplied by:
Viewing and reading the available information in a prescribed location.
Making available copies on paper or other electronic format.
How long will I have to wait to receive the information I have requested?
All requests will be acknowledged within seven (7) working days. If access is granted, documents will be made available to applicants within thirty (30) days.
Can I have documents about me corrected?
Yes, provided they have been or are being used by the government body for an administrative purpose.
How do I ask for these corrections about me to be done?
You apply by letter or on the prescribed application form, phone in, email or fax your request.
What kinds of appeal do I have?
The grounds on which you have the right to Appeal include:
refusal of a grant of access
the grant of access to only some of the documents requested
deferral of the grant of access
refusal to amend or annotate a personal record
the charging of, or amount of a fee
What are the Offences and Penalties under the Act?
Under the Act, a Government employee commits an offence if:
he alters or defaces, blocks or erases, destroys or conceals an official document to which the public has a right of access, with the intention of preventing its disclosure.
A fine of a maximum of five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000.00) or six (6) months imprisonment or both are applicable.