Right Steps & Poui Trees


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Inside Looking Out: Weekly Photo Challenge – Heritage

‘This week, share a photo of something that says “heritage” to you.’

Normally I see Jamaica House – the office of the Prime Minister – from the outside looking in. Recently, I attended a meeting there and took this photo when I was leaving…standing at the entrance, looking out.P1140626

Around were the signs of activity associated with maintaining this government property, built after Independence in 1962. Mowing the lawns…

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…installing a new fridge….P1140637

The building itself isn’t a particular favourite of mine, but the more than 50 years of Jamaican Independence are an essential part of what “heritage” means to me.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Heritage


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DNA? No Way! – More on The National Identification & Registration Act, 2017

A March 27, 2017 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) report titled National Identification System Will Be Game Changer – Chuck quotes Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck saying:JIS Min Chuck re natl id 27-3-17

The National Legislation and Registration Act, 2017 has been tabled in Parliament but hasn’t yet been passed. Minister Chuck’s reported statements to a police gathering in St Ann raise a number of concerns, one of which is his inclusion of DNA as one of the biometric identifiers to be included in the National Identification System.

When I wrote a blog post about the legislation last week, I had not seen the report of Minister Chuck’s speech, and I referred to the inclusion of DNA as an alarming future possibility:

So at some point in the future, a Prime Minister could decide to amend the Third Schedule to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers the Government would have the power to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in the database.

It is disturbing that the Minister of Justice sees the inclusion as a welcome current reality, rather than a problematic future possibility! Particularly since the Bill tabled in Parliament in March makes no mention of DNA, except the following in the Sixth Schedule, which deals with Amendments and Repeal of other Acts to be done in association with the new legislation:NIDS Bill - DNA Evidence Act amendment

DNA is not included in the Third Schedule, which lists the wide-ranging information the State will be empowered to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in a central database, nor is it included in the definitions of biometric information or core biometric information in the Interpretation section of the Act:NIDS Bill - biometric infoNIDS Bill - core biometric info

However, it would be quite easy to add DNA to the list in the legislation as currently drafted. The regulations have not yet been drafted or made public, and when they are, DNA could be included. Regulations are subject to affirmative resolution – 57(2). Additionally, Section 58 empowers the Prime Minister to amend the Schedules of the Act, including Schedule Three, which would be an even easier method for including DNA.NIDS Bill Section 58

So, I ask the question: Does the Government intend to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers to be collected for use in the National Identification System? If it does intend to collect DNA, then this should be made clear prior to passage of the Act. If it does not intend to collect DNA, then a specific prohibition needs to be included in the legislation, as has been done for some demographic information:NIDS Bill - demographic info

I have focussed on DNA in this post, given that it is the most extreme suggestion for collection and it has been mentioned by the Minister of Justice. I think, however, that ALL biographical, biometric and demographic information listed in the proposed legislation need to be reviewed and carefully considered before the Act is passed.

Other Questions About the Act Highlighted in JIS Report

The JIS report includes the following:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 banks

This points to the issues of

  • who will be entitled to request or demand the National Identity Number and/or National Identity Card from an individual,
  • under what circumstances such a request or demand can be made,
  • what right an individual will have to refuse such a request or demand and
  • what the consequences of such a refusal will be.

These need to be clearly understood before the Bill is passed into law.

For example, it is stated in the Bill that:NIDS Bill Section 41

This indicates that both public sector and private sector entities will have the power in law to request or demand that an individual provides their National Identification Number or National Identification Card and the individual will be required in law to produce it. (So you could go to the hardware store to buy a tin of paint and be required in law to produce your identity card if asked for it?)

How does this apply to requests or demands by the police? The JIS report states:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 police stop 2

The Bill is silent on any requirement that an individual must carry their National Identification Card at all times. Is it intended that this be included in regulations? Will the police be empowered in law to require someone to produce their National Identification Card? And if so, under what circumstances? As part of a “routine stop”? Only where there is reasonable suspicion of involvement in some criminal offence, committed or imminent? And what is contemplated as the consequence if someone doesn’t have their National Identification Card on them? Would that become grounds for detention? And if people are going to be required to carry their National Identufication Cards with them at all times, at what age would that requirement begin? And would it be all the BIOMETRIC data that would become available on swiping the card in the scenario above?

In another scenario presented by Minister Chuck, the police would have easy access to the fingerprints stored in the centralised database:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 access to fingerprints

This is a misleading portrayal of the process for the police to gain access to fingerprints or whatever core biometric information is eventually stored in the central database. It goes beyond “a quick check with the National Identification System headquarters”. In the Bill tabled the process is far more complex, as it should be given the sensitive nature of individuals’ biometric information. The process is set out in Section 45 of the Act and involves an application to the court and the criteria that a Judge must consider in granting the order for release of the information to the police.

The report ends with reassurances from the Minister:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 focus on crime applications

The security of any information stored in the centralised database is of critical importance. Is there a need for some minimum standards to be included in the legislation?

If you read through the National Legislation and Registration Act, 2017 in its current draft, you would not see the strong emphasis on its use as a crime fighting tool. It is presented primarily as a means for identification in accessing goods and services. This is one of the reasons for scrutiny at the level of a Joint Select Committee and clarification for the public. What are the implications (intended or unintended) of the provisions of the proposed legislation? What are the risks? What is the potential for erosion of rights and abuse by the State?

I am fully aware of the potential for inaccuracies and incompleteness in reports of events and speeches, but if the JIS report is an accurate one, then I am disappointed in Minister Chuck, because he is one of the people I would look to for strong scrutiny of the Act for potential breaches of rights and to lead discussion in that regard.

With or without this JIS report of the Minister’s speech, these are issues for consideration prior to passage of the Act. There are others that I will also raise in future posts.

 


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Does the National Identification & Registration Act Go Too Far?

This is the second weekend in a row that I have spent some time reading through a Bill recently tabled in the Parliament. This time is was the National Identification and Registration Act, 2017, tabled by Prime Minister Holness during his Budget Debate contribution in March. NIDS Bill title

In tabling the Bill, PM Holness said:

This Bill is consistent with a rights-based approach to ensuring that every citizen of Jamaica can be identified and known to the state, so that their rights and entitlements can be preserved and planned for in advance. This will create a tremendous public good by reducing transaction time and cost.

Mr. Speaker, the Registrar General Department will be transformed into the National Identification and Registration Authority and will be responsible for implementing the project. Funding for the project is being negotiated through the IDB and a detailed work plan is already prepared. We expect to be piloting the project in September next year.

From Contribution to the 2017/18 Budget Debate by PM Andrew Holness

Having read through the Bill, I certainly think that it needs to be considered by a Joint Select Committee to benefit from “the closer scrutiny of the Parliament”, as PM Holness said in relation to the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act.

The Act will establish the National and Civil Identification Database and will empower the Government to collect a variety of biographic and biometric information about each citizen of Jamaica and other individuals who are ordinarily resident in Jamaica. The range of information is set out in the Third Schedule of the Act:

NIDS Bill data aNIDS Bill data bNIDS Bill data cNIDS Bill data d

This isn’t even the final list, as the definitions of both “biographic information” and “biometric information” in the Interpretation section of the Act allow for additional data to be included in the Regulations, by referring respectively to “and such other information as may be specified in the regulations” & “or such other biological attribute of the individual as may be specified in the regulations”. The Regulations referred to haven’t yet been drafted or made public, so there is no way of knowing at this point what they might include in the first instance or in the future. (In fact, in more than a dozen places in the Bill, further details are relegated to the Regulations, in some instances leaving me feeling that the country is being asked to sign a contract now and find out the details later. With the devil so often lying in the details, perhaps the Regulations need to be brought to Parliament alongside the Bill or the details need to be included in the Bill itself.)

It is also important to note that Section 58 of the Act gives the power to the designated Minister (who is the Prime Minister in this Act) to amend Schedules: NIDS Bill Section 58

So at some point in the future, a Prime Minister could decide to amend the Third Schedule to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers the Government would have the power to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in the database.

But without going to future possibilities, a look at the existing list includes items that need to be deleted. For example, A 9. The religion of the individual. Why would it be necessary for the Jamaican Government to inquire into, collect, record and store in a permanent database the religion of every citizen of Jamaica? Other items among the biographical information need to be similarly questioned.

The biometric information is of particular concern, as one can hardly get more intrusive of a person’s privacy than to collect such data. Each of those items from A 22 – 33 needs to be carefully reconsidered. The Government will seek to reassure that the data will be secured and protected and only accessed under certain circumstances. I think it needs to be questioned whether by the simple fact of your being born in Jamaica, an act in which you have no choice whatsoever, the Government should have the power in law to collect all this biometric information from you.

There are other aspects of the Bill that need to be carefully considered and I plan to do further posts on this. At the core of the legislation, however, is the information the Government intends to collect about each citizen and so this is a good place to begin.

 

 

 


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Yes, You Do Get to Ask Questions About the Zones of Special Operations Act

You are asked as a citizen to trust the Government and that trust is an important part of how a democracy works. But in a democracy, that trust is never expected to be blind or unquestioning; it is expected to be qualified and earned on an ongoing basis. Good governance is participatory, with opportunities for sharing of information and genuine consultation and feedback on decisions that will affect the lives of citizens.

Budget debate 21-3-17 Holness cLast week, during his contribution to the Budget Debate, Prime Minister Andrew Holness tabled a Bill aimed at legal provisions for dealing with the problem of crime and security in Jamaica.Law Reform Special Zones bill

The short title for the proposed legislation is The Law Reforms (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017 and the Bill can be found on Parliament’s website. (Click here.)  PM Holness said the following about the Bill:

The referral to a Joint Select Committee will provide an opportunity for members of the public to hear more about the details of the Bill and to make written submissions to the Committee.

People are sometimes given the impression or make the assumption themselves that unless you are a legislator, a lawyer, an expert in the particular field, you are not entitled to express an opinion on an existing or proposed piece of legislation. We all benefit from the knowledge, expertise and opinions of legislators, lawyers and experts, but that does not mean that as a citizen you do not have the right to express concerns or ask questions about a piece of legislation that is likely to affect you, your family and community directly or indirectly. It is part of what citizens in a democracy are entitled (and expected) to do, part of how we participate other than by voting.

Over the weekend, I read through the Zones of Special Operations Bill, making notes of my initial thoughts, areas of concern or for clarification and questions. I’ve shared my notes below, as I continue to look at and follow the process regarding the Bill. The current provision is for the first review of the Act to take place within three years; often reviews are delayed and even when they take place and are reported on, recommendations for amendments can take years to be debated in Parliament. So it is necessary that the Bill be subject to closer scrutiny before passage.

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Having read the Bill, I have some initial thoughts and comments on areas for question and clarification and possible concerns that arise.

One thing that would be very useful in evaluating the impact of the Bill would be a matrix setting out what new powers have been allocated and to whom and where existing powers have been repeated in this Bill.

Some areas to look at particularly:

  • increased powers to JDF
  • increased powers to JCF
  • impact of the Bill on children
  • impact on freedom of association
  • impact on detention and bail
  • provisions for use of body-worn cameras
  • increased powers to Prime Minister
  • potential for powers within Zones to influence attitudes & actions of security forces outside of Zones
  • provisions for oversight & accountability of operations/actions within Zones (eg functioning of INDECOM within Zones)
  • any others?

In assessing the Bill, one would need to look at the impact of the proposed Act on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens; the potential effectiveness of provisions in the Act; whether powers/provisions detailed within the Act already exist in law.

Comments on specific sections of the Bill

Memorandum of Objects and Reasons for the Act

In the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons for the Act, it is specifically stated that:

“This Act should not have the negative impact on Jamaica, which could likely occur if a declaration of a state of public emergency was made.”

This raises the question of whether the Act seeks to establish the conditions of a state of public emergency in specified geographical locations without the existing process/protection/Parliamentary oversight and the constitutional implications of this.

Additionally, the following is stated in the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons for the Act, which raises the need for clarity about any additional powers the Bill seeks to give members of the JCF and JDF and, as indicated here, the impact of these on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. Is the balance an acceptable one? Consideration should be given to whether the powers granted here may influence (unintentionally?) the role/behavior of the police and military outside of any declared special zone or generally over the long term. Note the experience of the long-term impact on policing of the Suppression of Crime Act passed in the 1970s.Special Zones 1

Objects of Act 3(a) – (g)

This section sets out the specific objects of the Act regarding the Zones of special operations. It would be useful to clarify which of the powers listed here already exist in law and which are new. If they already exist in law, what need for the Act?

Declaration of Zone 4 (1) – (5)

Note the increased powers being given to the Prime Minister (in Council) and to the Joint Command (as designated in 8(a)).

Note (4) The entire Island shall not be declared as a Zone. Is there any limitation as to the number of Zones or % of the Island that can be designated as a Zone at any one time?

Extension of period 5(1) – (3)

With the initial period of up to 60 days allowed in 4(1) and the two extensions of up to 60 days each allowed in 5(1) & (2), an area can be designated as a Zone of special operation for up to 180 days (6 months) before being brought to Parliament for a vote.

When brought to Parliament, 5(3) Any subsequent extension shall be subject to affirmative resolution of the House of Representatives.

Would there be a limit to the length of time of such further extensions? Would it be the 60 days as with the prior extensions? Would there be a limit to the number of times such extensions could be declared? Would there be any mechanism other than the courts for residents within a declared zone to challenge such extensions?

Statement to Parliament (6)

Within fourteen days of each extension the Minister shall make a statement to Parliament.

Does this requirement exist for the initial declaration also, or only for extensions?

This is aimed at some Parliamentary accountability, and perhaps oversight. How effective could/would it be?

Designation of Joint Command 8(1) – (5)

8(1) What exactly does “to be jointly in charge of operations within the Zone” mean?

8(2) What level of additional training is envisaged in “are additionally trained in human rights, the use of force and community development initiatives”?

8(3) Will the details of the Zones’ “written accountability and reporting system as specified by the National Security Council” be available for review by anyone else to assess the adequacy of the system? INDECOM? The public?

8(5) Any person who fails to comply with subsection (4) is liable to disciplinary action.

Note the reference to disciplinary action here and elsewhere in Bill. Clarity on who will be responsible for administering such disciplinary action. JCF & JDF each to their own members?

Suspension of operation or change of Joint Command: 10

Note power of PM (in Council).

Identification of members of Joint Force: 11

Special Zones 2

This will not be standard? Does “may be ascertained” include being ascertained by the public?

Concern here about ability of public to identify police and soldiers on operations, given the context of long-standing and ongoing concerns about wearing of masks/face-coverings and non-display/covering of numbers on uniforms. Note, for example, concerns and comments in Report of Tivoli Commission of Enquiry.

Concern for the safety of members of JCF & JDF is usually raised as the reason for concealing identity of some members on some operations. Unfortunately, there has been in the past lack of acknowledgement of this practice by the hierarchy of the JCF, certainly, and a sense that such concealment is not subject to specific and recorded approval. There has also been a failure in recording of presence of specific members who participate in operations and where they would be assigned at any particular time. This has resulted in inability to identify members who may have been involved in alleged abuses. Again, see concerns and comments in Report of Tivoli Commission of Enquiry.

Powers of Joint Command to establish cordons and impose curfews: 12(1) – (2)

Clarify how this varies current powers/process to establish cordons and impose curfews.

Note that (2) specifically grants to members of the JDF in Zones the powers of a constable.

Duration of cordon and curfew: 13

Check current duration allowed for cordons and curfews.

Search and seizure: 14

Clarify which of these powers already exist in law and which are new.

Of particular note are instances in which members of the JDF are being granted powers that they do not already have or would not have outside of Zones.

Arrest or detention: 16

This clause needs to be gone through clarifying any variance with existing law. Again, particular note needs to be made of any increase in powers granted to the JDF.

Review role of Justice of the Peace in this clause.

2(a) How is “unless the circumstances are such that the person should know” determined?

Special Zones 3

Persons held in custody: 17 (1) – (2)

Any changes to existing law?

17(2) What time period is meant by “forthwith” in “…and shall cause such person to be brought forthwith before a Justice of the Peace”?

Just noting that the provisions under this Act will affect all persons arrested or detained for any offence in these Zones, not just those persons or offences related to the high crime factors referred to in the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons.

Treatment of persons arrested or detained: 18 (1) – (7)

Review against existing law.

If adhered to in practice, 17(3) would be important. But would it be adhered to in practice?

Use of body-worn cameras: 19 (1) – (2)

This clause deals with the wearing of body-worn cameras in the Zones and (2) requires the following:

Special Zones 4

with 2(a) – (g) setting out some of the specifics to be included in the protocols and procedures.

The head of the JCF’s communications unit recently stated that there are internal protocols which guide the use of body-worn cameras by the JCF. At the time, the head of INDECOM stated that such protocols hadn’t been shared with INDECOM. I don’t know whether they have been shared with INDECOM subsequently. They certainly haven’t been shared with the public.

I would question why the establishment and review of protocols and procedures for use of body-worn cameras in these Zones would be left to the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commissioner of Police. Would protocols governing body-worn cameras within the Zones differ from those for use otherwise/generally? Wouldn’t it be better to have a standardized practice for the entire country? Will INDECOM be involved in the development and/or review of such protocols – general or within Zones –  as set out in Bill? Will the public be entitled to know what these protocols and practices are?

Registration of weapons: 20

Special Zones 5

Why the qualifier? Would they be required to give reasons for such a decision? To whom?

Thinking generally about oversight for actions within the Zones.

Duty to disclose identity on request: 21(1) – (4)

Compare with existing law.

Note offence and punishment in 21(4).

Duty under law for the protection of children: 22

Special Zones 6

Consider any implications of this provision.

22 (a) Implications of this expansion of power to any/all members of JCF and JDF in a Zone. Too broad? Could intention be accomplished by referral to existing Attendance Officers?

Was this included in response to questions regarding under what law police in certain communities have exercised certain authority over children there?

Establishment of Social Intervention Committee: 23(1) – (2)

What resources will be available for the functioning of the Committees? Funds? Support staff? Office space? Etc?

Often the effectiveness of committees is hampered by lack of resources, even fairly basic ones.

Functions of Committee: 24(1) – (4)

Review the functions. Note 24(2) re TOR of Committees.

Regulations: 25

“The Minister may make regulations for the better carrying out ot the provisions and purposes of this Act.” Not “shall make regulations”? In past instances, the failure to pass accompanying regulations has hampered the proper implementation of an Act.

Review of Act by Parliamentary Committee: 26(1) – (2)

26(2) The first review not later than 3 years after declaration of first Zone.

First Schedule – Social Intervention Committee

Constitution of Committee: 1(a) – (u)

“The Committee shall be comprised of at least ten persons selected from among the following – “

Twenty-one people/categories of people are offered, from which at least ten are to be chosen. Of the twenty-one, seventeen are explicitly state/government representatives; two are explicitly community representatives; two – (g) and (u) – could be state/government or non-state/government. This seems to skew to composition of the Social Intervention Committees towards being predominantly state/government in composition.

Procedure and meetings: 5(1) – (7)

5(2) By what mechanism would the community be able to make a call for a meeting of the committee? Would it be dependent on getting the requisite number of committee members to support such a call? Or would there be some other mechanism?

5(5) Would minutes be available to public routinely? Or dependent on ATI requests?

Second Schedule – Amendment of other Enactments

General need to review and be clear on all the changes to existing laws being made here.

Constabulary Force Act

Look at specifics of changes being proposed.

Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organization) Act

The three New Parts to be inserted into the existing Act need to be reviewed for the implications of the provisions contained in them. Provisions regarding interim control orders and control orders are of particular note.

1A – Declaration of Criminal Organization,

1B – Control of Members of Criminal Organizations and

1C – Registers of Criminal Organization and Controlled Members of Criminal Organizations

Firearms Act

Look at the New Sections – 42A, 42B and 42C – to be inserted in existing Act. Implications?

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Some other laws to consider in reviewing this Bill

The Constitution of Jamaica

The Emergency Powers Act

The Constabulary Force Act

The Defence Act

The Education Act

The Child Care and Protection Act

Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organization) Act

The Firearms Act


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How Often Did Your MP Attend Parliament in 2016 – 2017?

In the past couple of weeks, the issue of the narrow margin between the Government (32 seats) and the Opposition (31 seats) has come to the fore once again. This is because Member of Parliament (MP) Derrick Smith, who is Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives, is currently overseas receiving medical care and if he were absent for the upcoming vote, the Government mightn’t have the votes to pass the Budget.

Derrick Smith Gleaner photo

Gleaner photo

Mr Smith is quoted in an article in The Gleaner this week as saying, “I will be available for any parliamentary vote.” And one can believe it, as he is one of only five MPs who were present for 40 of the 41 sittings of the Parliament during the year. He is also the only MP recorded as present at the sitting scheduled for October 4, 2016, when there was no quorum due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew impacting Jamaica. (I am not sure if his attendance was due to his personal commitment or was in some way connected with his position of Leader of Government Business.)

Attendance in Parliament is only one of many measures of an MP’s performance, but it is a starting place for holding our representatives accountable. The table below sets out MPs’ attendance at the 41 sittings of the new Parliament which had its first sitting on March 10, 2016, after the general election in February. The table doesn’t indicate whether MPs were present for roll call at the start of sessions, though this is available in the records of the Parliament. Whether they stayed to the end of the sessions isn’t recorded, however.

One question to consider as you look at the table is – How much, if at all, does it matter to you whether your MP attends Parliament?

MPs attendance 2016 - 2017 aMPs attendance 2016 - 2017 ab

(Click to access table as PDF file: ATTENDANCE RECORD FOR MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT MARCH 2016 – JANUARY 2017)

RELATED DOCUMENTS

The data for the table was taken from the following attendance records obtained from Parliament:

ATTENDANCE RECORD OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT FOR PERIOD NOV 2015 – DEC 2016

ATTENDANCE RECORD OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT FOR PERIOD NOVEMBER 2016 to JANUARY 2017

RELATED BLOG POST

How Many Times Did Your MP Attend Parliament in 2015?


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How Many Times Did Your MP Attend Parliament in 2015?

Yesterday the Parliament sat at Gordon House for the first time in 2016, a year in which there is likely to be an election, which will determine who your MP will be for the next 5 years, approximately. (Approximately. Time for a fixed date for Jamaica’s elections?)

Parliament 12-1-16

Quick question…do you know how many times your MP attended Parliament last year? And I am not going to ask you the follow up questions – Do you care? Does it matter? Within the overall role and expectations of MPs, how highly should we rank attendance at Parliament?

I am simply going to say that if you are interested, click here: 2015 ATTENDANCE RECORD FOR MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT – JAMAICA

This chart shows how many times each MP attended the sittings of Parliament in 2015. There were 51 sittings (including the Ceremonial Opening of Parliament on February 19 and the Joint Sitting on September 30, during the visit of UK Prime Minister David Cameron). The chart also shows the number of times absent, absent with apology, apology for illness, and absent on government/official business.

Parliament attendance chart

This data doesn’t indicate whether MPs arrived late, that is after roll call, though that is in the records of Parliament. It also doesn’t indicate how long MPs remained in the Chamber, or what they said or did while there.

It is interesting to note, by the way, that there were more absences generally from September onwards. Were MPs out campaigning?

Below are the documents from Parliament, which set out the record for each sitting and from which the above chart was compiled:

ATTENDANCE RECORD OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT FOR PERIOD JANUARY 13 – March 25, 2015

ATTENDANCE RECORD OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT FOR PERIOD APRIL 7 2015

ATTENDANCE RECORD OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT FOR DECEMBER 2015

I’ll share the Senate attendance record for 2015 in another blog post. I am also interested in attendance at committee meetings, but those might take a longer time to collect.


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A Bruised Access to Information Act?

I am glad that Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, changed his mind and is now going to release to the public the long-withheld health facilities audit report. It is the right decision and should have been his position from the start.

But I have some concerns.

I am concerned that the Minister initially felt it was acceptable to withhold the full report from the public, as this doesn’t fit within the access to information paradigm which is supposed to operate in Jamaica.

I am concerned that the individuals and organizations (including media houses) who made applications for the audit report using the provisions of the Access to Information (ATI) Act hadn’t received the report as of Monday (Nov 2). Applicants have said they were beyond the original 30 day period and were at or approaching the end of the 30 day extension that can be requested under the Act. The reason the Ministry of Health (MOH) gave for the delay was that it had asked the Attorney General (AG) for legal advice regarding releasing the report.

A number of the individuals and organizations said that the MOH wrote to them on Monday saying that it was still awaiting the AG’s response, and so wouldn’t be releasing the document at that time. The MOH also advised applicants that they could appeal the decision, using Part 5 of the Act.

So basically, as of Monday the MOH was not prepared to release the report to those who had applied for it using the designated law for this purpose.

And then on Tuesday morning (Nov 3), the Minister reversed his decision and said that he would be releasing the audit report after all.

MOH ATI release of audit tweet Nov 3 2015

What changed the Minister’s mind? Consultations, said the Minister at a public function on Tuesday. Consultations with whom and of what nature?

Was the Minister’s decision to release the audit report based on the principles and provisions of the law, the ATI Act? Or was it the public pressure? The mounting political pressure? The intervention of the private sector organizations? The continued media scrutiny? The likelihood that the full report had already been leaked & the details were beginning to make their way into the public sphere?

So where does this leave the ATI Act? What happens when there is no public, political, private sector or media interest and pressure? When it is just you the citizen, a Ministry of Government and the Access to Information Act? We don’t know how long the appeal process would have taken or what the outcome would have been. But we do know it would have been a lot longer than 24 hours and would have fit the delay-and-frustrate model far better than the public outcry did.

I am concerned that more than 10 years after the ATI Act came into being, Ministers and Ministries do not respond as quickly as they ought to, given the objects and provisions of the Act.

ATI Act objects