Month: June 2019

Undermining Accountability and Transparency: The Collapse of the Open Government Agenda

The current administration through its deeds and actions has significantly eroded the progress achieved in accountability and transparency for this country.  Further to our call to withdraw clause 7 of the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2019 currently before the Parliament, the (Congress of the People (COP) joins with others in condemning the proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which serves to not only lengthen the Freedom of Information (FOI) request wait times but to introduce the influence of the Political Directorate through the active decision making of the Attorney General,  a political appointee, in the determining whether such a request should be denied or granted.  This undermines one of the pillars of good governance, the strengthening of independent institutions and independent decision making free from political influence. 

This Government should have been advancing the Open Government and Open Data agendas.  Whereas the FOI involves the reactive disclosure of Government information to a single individual or a group in response to a specific request, Open Government is the proactive disclosure of government information to all citizens without the need for requests. It is based on the presumption “open by default,” holding that all government information should be publicly available unless there are compelling reasons to protect such information.  It propels the shift in the democratic process from representative government to participatory government in allowing not only for citizens to elect legislators to govern but to actively help them govern. 

As part of the reform of the Public Service, Political Leader, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan,  during her tenure as Minister of Public Administration aggressively pursued the design and development of the Open Government National Action Plan 2014-2016.  With the assistance of the Inter American Development Bank (IDB), this plan was achieved and approved, making Trinidad and Tobago the first CARICOM country to sign onto the 66-member Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international platform committed to making Governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.  Unfortunately for citizens of this country, this current administration, early in its term of office did not follow through on this agenda and as a consequence many of the proposed initiatives specified in the plan were either stymied or cancelled including moving the Extractive Industries Initiative (EITI) to the next phase, establishment of the Open Government Data Portal and the opening up of Government datasets.  To add insult to injury this administration now seeks to undermine the FOIA. 

A COP Government will not only reverse these amendments but will move to strengthen the FOIA and aggressively pursue the implementation of the Open Government and Open Data agendas.  Going forward as enunciated by our political leader at our relaunch on April 07, 2019, Cabinet Notes and Minutes, unless classified, will be placed in the public domain in addition to all energy contracts and licenses.  She stated that this will lift the veil of secrecy, boost investor’s confidence and facilitate participatory governance of our nation.  The time has come for a system that is not only transparent but inclusive.