Cabinet Documents Secrecy

 

 

Following is the full statement from the Office of the Prime Minister regarding the decision to withdraw the Order from Parliament aimed at extending period of secrecy regarding Cabinet documents from 20 to seventy (70) years. The statement was issued Thursday morning, October 3.

 

Statement on ATI Resolution

On October 1, 2019, the Government tabled a Resolution to extend the period of exemption for Cabinet documents from 20 years to 70 years.  This became necessary as Cabinet considered a request for the Minutes of Cabinet meetings in 1975-1976 under the Access to Information Act, which provides for the release of exempted documents after 20 years of their coming into existence.
 
The Cabinet considered that while 20 years may be sufficient time for most issues to lose currency, there were still cases in which the information released could be:
 

Against the public interest.

A violation of the right to privacy of individuals who are directly or indirectly captured in Cabinet documents and whose information would not normally be the subject of an Access to Information request.

A violation of proprietary information which could have a commercial impact.

A violation of bilateral or multilateral agreements and understanding within which, information was shared by foreign governments or agencies.

A breach of national security and the sources and methods of the intelligence networks of the security forces.

 
In addition, Cabinet also considered whether or not the actual deliberations of Cabinet captured in Minutes should be released since all members, regardless of their view on a matter, in support or objection, are collectively responsible for the decision. The release of records of Cabinet deliberations will most certainly have an impact on how freely and forthrightly Cabinet members bring their knowledge and judgement to bear on the affairs of the Nation presented to them for decisions.
 
While the law gives the Prime Minister the discretion to issue certificates of exemption for Cabinet documents, having regard to the period, nature and sensitivity of the particular request under consideration, Cabinet recommended an extension of the exemption period, instead of the issuance of an exemption certificate.  
 
We considered what would be a sufficient timeframe in light of many valid concerns about issues dealt with during the period of the request that is still of currency, including individuals’ right to privacy and proprietary information. The right to privacy of an individual’s personal information would certainly last their lifetime, which we estimate at 70 years. Patents, copyrights and other proprietary information on average would last certainly more than 20 years and can extend to more than the lifetime of the owner.
 
The Cabinet considered other Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Canada, Australia and the UK where provisions are made for the exemption of certain Cabinet documents, but which may be released upon request after determination of applicable tests such as public interest, national security and privacy rights.

The issues that were considered and weighed would have been disclosed during the Parliamentary debate. However, having tabled the Order Resolution to give time for Parliamentarians to prepare, the public debate has gone ahead of the Parliamentary process.
 
Although a Parliamentary Committee completed a review of the Act in 2011, the work was not advanced to the stage of preparing a revised law. However, it was always the intention of this Administration to convene a new Joint Select Committee to incorporate the work already done and pursue an up to date review with new policy considerations to make the Act more robust and comprehensive.
 
We note the concerns raised by the public. As planned, at the next sitting of Parliament, the government will name a Joint Select Committee to review the Access to Information Act, the Archives Act and the Official Secrets Act. The government will withdraw the interim measure of the Order Resolution and instead have the very important issues raised in the public debate go straight to the Joint Select Committee for their consideration. The request for Cabinet documents currently before the authorities, therefore, will be reconsidered.
 
The government appreciates and understands the sentiment of the Jamaican People and has a duty to thoroughly explore and consider all the issues before it and balance competing rights to achieve equity. We use this opportunity to reiterate our commitment to governmental accountability, transparency and public participation in national decision-making.

 

Franklin McKnight
 

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