BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, May 4, 2018 (Press Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister) – Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, is of the firm view that Leader of the Opposition, the Right Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas, has no moral authority to criticize the Team Unity Government for moving the Freedom of Information Bill through the National Assembly.
The former Denzil Douglas-led Administration failed to enact any legislation on Freedom of Information after serving 20 years in government.
During his presentation in the National Assembly on Thursday (May 3), Prime Minister Harris made reference to the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party’s manifesto in which they promised to enact Freedom of Information legislation.
“Was that window dressing; was that just to satisfy the appetite of a people at election time in 2004?” Dr. Harris questioned. “How can he [Dr. Douglas] exercise moral authority in a debate about freedom of information from the high office of the Leader of the Opposition when he had 20 years to do and he never did?”
The honourable prime minister continued, “The Member for Number Six left government without putting into practice integrity in public life legislation. Had he done that, we would have been further ahead in terms of political climate and environment in the country.”
Dr. Harris is of the view that it was a deliberate move by the former prime minister not to enact such legislation because “had he passed integrity in public life legislation, we would have known that the Member for Number Six had leased his property at Five Ways to the Taiwanese at $10,000 US dollars per month. We would have known that over the period, the Member for Number Six had going into his own resources over $3 million.”
Prime Minister Harris also reprimanded the members of the Opposition for their lack of preparedness and understanding of the critical piece of legislation that seeks to promote maximum disclosure of information in the public interest, to guarantee the right of everyone to access to information, to provide for effective mechanisms to secure that right and for related matters.
There are certain types of information held by public bodies or state agencies that would not be disclosed to the general public, including matters of national security; health and safety; court proceedings; trade secrets and confidential business information; intellectual property rights; international relations between countries; and the protection of privacy for third parties if their disclosure consent is missing.
Prime Minister Harris stressed that these exceptions as outlined in the St. Kitts and Nevis legislation falls in line with best practices elsewhere in the region, adding, “nothing then is wrong about the exemptions that we have provided within the law.”
“In the Barbados bill they have provide an exception to the right to access information if it concerns matters of national security,” Dr. Harris stated, while adding that St. Kitts and Nevis has the same provisions.
He added, “In the Barbados legislation they said that they will exempt information when it involves international relations. In other words, once it’s state to state matter, once it’s a matter between Barbados and the US Government that matter can’t be made available as you will by members of the public.”
The Freedom of Information Bill, which had its first reading in 2015, was passed in the National Assembly on Thursday, May 3.