Right Steps & Poui Trees


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The Death of Noel Chambers: “…a comprehensive audit…has been commissioned”

On January 24, 2020, Mr Noel Chambers died in the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre.

INDECOM 1st Quarterly Report 2020 - Noel Chambers - blog picOn June 2, 2020, the public was made aware of Mr Chambers’ death when the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) released its First Quarterly Report for 2020 at a digital press conference. The details given about Mr Chambers’ incarceration and death were horrifying and outraged the country.

“At the time of his death Mr. Chambers was 81 years old. He was incarcerated on February 4, 1980 and had been in prison for 40 years without being tried. He was being held at the Governor General’s pleasure, deemed unfit to plead to a charge of murder. Therefore he was being held in custody without being convicted for an offence….

At the time of his death he was in a deplorable physical condition. His clothing was filthy and his body showed evidence of chronic emaciation. He was covered with what appeared to be vermin bites, live bedbugs (‘chink’) and he showed signs of having bed sores.”

(p. 5, INDECOM First Quarterly Report 2020)

In the days following news of Mr Chambers’ death, we were told that more details regarding the circumstances surrounding his death and the government’s response would be given when Minister of National Security Horace Chang gave a statement in Parliament. The Department of Correctional Services, which manages the prisons, falls under the Ministry of National Security.

On June 16, 2020, Minister Chang gave a statement in Parliament.  This is the text of the statement…

Minister Chang statement re Noel Chambers blog pic

PARLIAMENTARY STATEMENT on death of Noel Chambers

…and this is a link to the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica’s (PBCJ) recording of the sitting of the House of Representatives that day. Minister Chang’s statement about the death of Mr Chambers begins at approximately 23:30 in the recording.

PBCJ Min Chang Parliament 16-6-2020 Noel Chambers statement pic

I have a number of concerns arising out of this statement, but the one I want to focus on here is the audit announced in Paragraph 4 of Minister Chang’s statement:

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Chambers has been commissioned. This audit is expected to not only reveal the circumstances specific to his death but also to thoroughly examine the procedures involved in the treatment of inmates who are deemed unfit to plead. In the interim, I wish to outline the details of preliminary findings from the special investigation undertaken by the Department of Correctional Services.

“…a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Chambers has been commissioned.” This is what the Parliament was told and by extension the country as a whole. This is put forward as a major mechanism for uncovering the details surrounding Mr Chambers’ death, for accountability and for recommending changes in the systems that allowed for his incarceration and death.

“…a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Chambers has been commissioned.”

  • Who commissioned the audit?
  • Who is carrying out the audit? What body? Which individuals?
  • What are the terms of reference of the audit?
  • What resources and powers have been granted for the carrying out of this audit?
  • What is the timeline for the completion of the audit?
  • To whom will the audit report be sent once it is completed?
  • Will the audit report be tabled in Parliament? Will it be made public?

If the answers to these questions are not made public, it will be difficult – if not impossible – for the public to hold the government accountable for this process and any subsequent action.

One reason why greater transparency is absolutely necessary is that this audit process may be being carried out by entities and/or individuals responsible for the circumstances that led to Mr Chambers’ incarceration and death.

More information is necessary, Minister Chang.

We need to remember that it wasn’t the Ministry of National Security that brought Mr Chambers’ death to public attention. Without INDECOM’s report, we would not have known.

 

 

 

 


Police Have Sent File on Walker’s Place of Safety Fire to the DPP

When news came of the fire that destroyed the Walker’s Place of Safety on January 16, 2018, resulting in the death of two girls, there was an outpouring of grief and concern from officials and members of the public. Offers of help were extended, commitments were made regarding care for the surviving children and donations were given for immediate needs and towards the rebuilding of the facility.

 

At the time, I could not help thinking of the fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Facility on the night of May 22, 2009, which caused the death of seven girls and injury and trauma to numerous others. The subsequent Commission of Enquiry revealed specific information about the circumstances – horrifying and preventable – that led to the death of those children.

Assuming (hoping?) that lessons had been learned from that tragic event and loss of life, I expected that there would be the kind of thorough and detailed investigation and reporting that would indicate the specific circumstances that led to the death of the two children at Walker’s Place of Safety. I expected that there would be a full public accounting, so that we would know why these children’s lives had been lost, although the lives of so many others had been saved.

I did not hear in the public statements by officials the kind of details that would be needed and perhaps I didn’t expect it. I did, however, expect that in written format somewhere in the government agencies that level of investigation, reporting and accounting would exist. Reference was made in the media to a report by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA, formerly the CDA – Child Development Agency) and the fire report by the Jamaica Fire Brigade. I made Access to Information (ATI) requests for these documents, in the hopes that they would provide more of the type of information I was expecting to see. They didn’t.

(I wrote two blog posts about these reports – one on May 17, 2018 –

Walker’s Place of Safety Fire Brigade Report via Access to Information Request

and the other on September 29, 2018 –

Fire at Walker’s Place of Safety: More Information Needed

In the second post, I pointed out how little information is given about the circumstances leading to the death of the two children and the need for much more.)

The first anniversary of the fire came and went and on January 24, 2019, I made ATI requests to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI) and to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) via the Ministry of National Security (MNS). There is a reason for having gone that route with my request to the JCF, but that’s for another time. The requests I made were as follows:

1. All documents giving an account of the specific circumstances surrounding the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of the fire on January 16, 2018.
2. All documents regarding any investigation or inquiry into the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of the fire on January 16, 2018, including any instructions for such investigation or inquiry to be carried out.
3. All documents related to any aspect of the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018.
4. All documents related to any aspect of the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018.
MNS acknowledged receipt of my requests that same day, but then I heard nothing further. I emailed again on February 27, 2019, pointing this out and the following day received this response from MNS:

“This is to inform that your request below was directed to the J.C.F. However, in initial communication with them they had maintained that the matter was being investigated and would in this instance could not be disclosed, this was communicated verbally. I did not want to pass on this information until documented information/confirmation was forwarded about same.

Notwithstanding the J.C.F has formally confirmed that an investigation was conducted on the matter and the file was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for ruling which is being awaited.

Consequently, based on the status of the matter the documents are exempted vide section 16 (b) of the Access to Information Act. Please be guided accordingly, thank you.”

Section 16(b) deals with one of the provisions for exemption of documents relating to law enforcement and reads as follows:ATI Act 16(b) exempt docs

I replied on the same day asking if I could get some document from the JCF indicating that the file had been referred to the DPP – a memo or cover letter for example, which mightn’t be exempt under the ATI Act.

On March 7, 2019, I received the following acknowledgement from MNS…

“I have requested the document/s that would indicate a referral of this matter to the DPP, I will be awaiting same. It will be forwarded when received. Thank you.”

…and on March 25, 2019, I received the following response:

“Please find attached correspondence substantiating that the matter of the Walker’s Place of Safety fire (case file) was referred to the Director of Public Prosecution by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Thank you.”

The documents attached were a handwritten certified copy of an entry in the Registry Correspondence Books and a typed copy of the same. An edited image of the typed copy, which is more legible, is shared here. ATI JCF Walker's POS case file correspondence 3-19 - cropped

A list of the names of the people whose statements were sent and a list of the pieces of evidence sent were included under the heading “File Contents”. I decided, however, not to include those in my post, which is why the image is edited. And I note that the document doesn’t actually indicate who the file was sent to. I also note that the file seems to have been sent on February 7, 2019, three weeks after the first anniversary of the fire and two weeks after I made my ATI request to the JCF.

I do not know what decision the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) has made regarding the file…whether or not a decision has been made to prosecute anyone for a crime in regard to the fire or the death of the girls. I wait to hear.

The Armadale Commission of Enquiry and its subsequent report demonstrated the level of enquiry and reporting that should take place if a child dies in a fire in state care, the level of reporting owed to the child, to the family, to the nation. But does it require that a Commission of Enquiry be held to get that detailed accounting? What protocols were set in place after Armadale for the proper investigation of such tragic incidents? And who has the responsibility for such an investigation and reporting?

No-one could be satisfied with the CPFSA report or the Fire Brigade report.

I have been told by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information that they have no information in response to my request about the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety and the death of the two children, that all such information would be at CPFSA. I have made a request to the Office of the Children’s Advocate, which has asked for an extension of time to consider the request and have been told I will have a response by May 19.

Some weeks ago I went with a couple of others to the site of the Walker’s Place of Safety. There was nothing at the site that would clearly indicate to someone who didn’t know that that was where the facility had been located. The remains of the building have been removed and the site cleared. The type of bush that covers open lots has grown up quickly. There are remains of a play area to the front of the cleared lot and if you walk across the lot and look closely at the ground, you can see small pieces of charred wood sparsely scattered in the dirt. To one side of the lot, there is a tree that still shows signs of being badly burnt.

(Video credit: D. A. Bullock)

The events of that night may be indelibly seared in the memories of those who experienced it directly, of the survivors, of the families of those who died, of the people who helped to rescue children, of the officials who oversaw arrangements immediately afterwards. But just as evidence of what happened at that site is fading, the memory of what happened will fade too – from public consciousness and from the official record – if there is not written accounting to be relied on.

Imagine what would be publicly known or recorded about the tragedy at Armadale if there had been no Commission of Enquiry.

What happened that night at the Walker’s Place of Safety? What led to the death of the two children? Were their deaths preventable? Where is the accounting that would let us know?

 


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$75 Million Allocated To Retrofit Police Lock-Ups For Children: So What Happened?

Parliament - gordon-house-2In 2013, the Jamaican Parliament was told that $75 million was to be spent retrofitting five police lock-ups with “child friendly” areas for the detention of children. In 2017, a Parliamentary Committee has now been told that the retrofitting of four lock-ups was completed in 2015 and that the areas were handed over to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). The Committee was also told, however, that the retrofitting was so poorly done that the “child friendly” lock-ups have never been used and that it will take an additional $32 million for recommended repairs to be done, $17 million of which has already been allocated in the 2017 – 18 budget.

At its last two meetings, Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee has discussed this much-touted government programme for retrofitting police lock-ups with “child friendly” areas. The information shared in those meetings raises serious questions about the implementation of the programme and the money spent on what some, myself included, thought to be an ill-conceived idea when it was originally proposed.

On September 19, 2017, the Committee  had a meeting, which Opposition MP Peter Bunting chaired, and discussed a Ministry of National Security (MNS) report titled Status of Retrofitted Children’s Detention Facilities Island Wide – June 30 2017. Committee members expressed dissatisfaction with the report and raised concerns about some of its contents. They decided to ask MNS representatives to attend the Committee’s next meeting to provide further information and to answer questions that had arisen.

Fitz Jackson MP

MP Fitz Jackson

 

On Tuesday, October 10, 2017, the Committee met again, this time with Opposition MP Fitz Jackson as Chair; having recently been appointed Opposition Shadow Minister of National Security, he has taken over from MP Bunting as Committee Chairman. The delegation from the MNS and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JFC) that appeared before the Committee was led by Mrs Mitsy Beaumont-Daley, Acting Chief Technical Director at the MNS, and Commissioner of Police George Quallo. The MNS submitted an updated report titled Report – Physical Condition of Retrofitted Children’s Detention Facilities Islandwide – October 5 2017 to the Committee. This was accompanied by a report of inspections made of the four relevant police lock-ups on September 26 & 27, 2017 and a collection of photographs showing the physical condition of the facilities.

Background to Decision to Retrofit Lock-Ups

The October 5, 2017 MNS report gives the background to the decision to retrofit these four police lock-ups:

“An Inter-Ministerial Working Group was established in September 2012 by the then Ministry of Youth and Culture. The primary purpose of the Working Group was to examine the issues and challenges that affect children within the care of the State.

A significant focus of the Committee was to provide a solution for the separation of juveniles who come in conflict with the law from adults in police lock-ups. In this regard a programme was developed to establish self-contained child friendly holding units to accommodate such children. Thirteen (13) units were to be established in strategic locations across the fourteen parishes with Kingston and St. Andrew operating as one facility. The Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) was identified as the source of funding and the facilities were constructed by the National Works Agency (NWA).

The plan was to retrofit/construct the units in phases. Four (4) were to be completed in the first phase namely Bridgeport in St. Catherine, Barrett Town in St. James, Moneague in St. Ann and Nain in St. Elizabeth. By 2015 all facilities were handed over to the Jamaica Constabulary Force, except for Nain.” p. 1

Indeed, then Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna reported on the retrofitting programme in her Sectoral Debate presentation in 2013:Hanna Sectoral presentation 2013 28Hanna Sectoral presentation 2013 29

And again in 2014:

Hanna Sectoral presentation 2014 p12Hanna Sectoral presentation 2014 p13

The October 5, 2017 MNS report points out that the programme completely failed to deliver what had been promised:

“Following the handing over of the facilities, a walk through was conducted which revealed that the buildings were not as safe and secure as they appeared. Several defects were observed that were described as “potential” safety hazards as well as unfinished works.

Discussions were held with the contractors (NWA and JEEP) who gave assurance that the matters would be addressed in short order. However, as at September 27, 2017, only one station (Bridgeport) toilet facility was reconfigured, the others have not been addressed and the newly constructed structures were left to deteriorate.”

One has to ask, as did some of the members of the Committee, what level of consultation took place regarding the design of these facilities? What monitoring took place while the work was being done? And what accountability has there been regarding the poor quality of the completed work, at and since the point of handover?

Identified Problems at Retrofitted Lock-Ups

The MNS October 2017 report outlines the problems that they identified with the rerofitted facilities:MNS lock-up retrofitting report Oct 2017 - flaws aMNS lock-up retrofitting report Oct 2017 - flaws b

Looking at just one of the issues of concern, items (iii) and (iv) deal with the basic and important issue of proper ventilation. In the MNS June 30, 2017 report, three of the four facilities are identified as having a problem with ventilation and some very stark language is used to describe the problem.

Barrett Town: “9. The ventilation for the cells is very poor and could lead to suffocation.”

Moneague: “5. The ventilation for the cells is very poor and could lead to suffocation if the windy climate at Moneague should cease.”

Nain: “The facility is not suitable for habitation due to very poor ventilation.”

The September 2017 MNS inspection report uses less dramatic language in describing the ventilation problem and the associated recommendations, but the problem remains as a concern:MNS Oct 2017 - lock up inspection report aMNS Oct 2017 - lock up inspection report b

The provided photographs give a visual indication of the situation being described:MNS police lock ups photos - Oct 2017 report The MNS October 2017report speaks of the facilities being “constructed from a prototype plan”. What did this plan require regarding ventilation? Who was consulted in designing this plan? What standards were used as a guideline for developing this plan?

And if it is said that the prototype plan was adequate, is it that the work done varied from the plan? If so, wasn’t this noticed while the work was being done? And again, why has there been no accountability for the poor work done? Why is it that the facilities remained unused and deteriorating, after so much money was spent?

What Next?

At the end of the Committee meeting on October 10, MP Jackson said that the scope of the investigation into the use of public funds for this retrofitting went beyond the mandate of the Internal and External Affairs Committee. He said that the Committee would complete its report to Parliament on the matter and that further investigation would need to be done by the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) and/or the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

This is a matter that demands explanation and accountability, at the stages of planning, implementation and sign off. With all that is needed for children who come into conflict with the law, with the often heard excuse of lack of resources, we owe it to them to demand that the Parliament does its part in achieving full accountability.

In this post, I have focussed on the expenditure and the facilities, but there remains the substantive problem of children being held in police lock-ups. The situation has changed somewhat in the past few years, but there is still a need for the government to present a more careful analysis of data to identify the causes of the problem and whether this is the best solution.

If $75 million has already been spent and an additional $32 million is to be spent, is the end result after spending $107 million really going to be the best solution for the children involved?

The Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament

Many of us may not be familiar with the mandate of Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee and may wonder why this matter came before it. The Standing Orders of Parliament gives a description of the Committee’s role, which makes this clearer:Internal and External Committee

(From Standing Orders of the House of Representatives of Jamaica 1964 )

The current members of this Committee are:

Members of Parliament: Mr Fitz Jackson (Chair), Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, Mr Dave Brown, Mr Leslie Campbell, Mr Heroy Clarke, Mr Horace Dalley, Mr Colin Fagan, Mr Floyd Green, Mr Alando Terrelong and Mr Franklin Witter.

(As a member and representative of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice, I worked on this issue when it first arose. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)


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Advertising for Police Commissioner & Other Public Posts

Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Novelette Grant will assume the position of Acting-Commissioner on January 7, 2017, when the current Commissioner’s resignation takes effect. Commissioner Carl Williams’ resignation became public on December 22, 2016, when his resignation letter, submitted weeks earlier, was leaked. Commissioner Williams explained that the timing and manner in which his resignation became public knowledge wasn’t the best, as it had been planned that the news wouldn’t be made public until the selection of Acting-Commissioner had been completed. rjr-report-on-resignation-of-cop-williams-22-12-16This RJR report (including an audio clip from his interview with journalist Dionne Jackson Miller) was one of many media reports dealing with the news of Commissioner Williams’ resignation at the time.

The Ministry of National Security quickly issued a press release  thanking Commissioner Williams for his service and dealing with other issues connected with the resignation and replacement process. (mns-police-commissioner-to-demit-office-22-12-16)

dcp-novelette-grantThe following day, the Police Service Commission (PSC) announced that DCP Grant would act as Commissioner during the search period, a process that is expected to take 90 days. In a speech on Sunday (Jan 1, 2017), DCP Grant made the pragmatic statement that there would be no miracles in the process of dealing with crime and none should be expected of her.

Also on Sunday, the advertisement for the post of Commissioner was carried in the press. It focussed on the duties and responsibilities of Commissioner and set out the deadline and contacts for submission of applications. DCP Grant is so far the only person to have publicly declared an intention to apply for the post and she is, in fact, a very likely candidate for selection.

gleaner-advt-for-commissioner-of-police-1-1-17-pt-1gleaner-advt-for-commissioner-of-police-1-1-17-pt-2

I think that the advertisement posted is seriously lacking in one regard. It does not set out in any specificity the qualifications and experience required of applicants for the post of Commissioner of Police. What level of experience in law enforcement is required? Must experience be within policing or will experience in some other context be considered, for example the military, correctional services or private security? Is there a minimum number of years of experience necessary for consideration? What level of supervisory/managerial experience is required? What are the preferred and minimum educational requirements for the post? These are a few of the requirements that could reasonably be expected to be specified in such an advertisement. It would also be useful to know if the PSC is advertising the post outside of Jamaica, regionally or further afield.

I have long thought that this is an approach that should be taken routinely when advertising vacant public posts, not just for the current vacancy for Commissioner of Police. It gives the public a clearer idea of the criteria considered important for successful fulfilment of the job. It also gives the public a basis for evaluating how well the candidate eventually appointed meets the required qualifications and experience for the post. This would support the increased move towards transparency and accountability required in modern approaches to good governance. It is not too late for the PSC to adopt this approach, and perhaps it is time for this to become routine and required when advertising  vacancies for public posts in Jamaica.

 

 

 


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Crimes Committed by People on Bail: An Access to Information Story

Jamaica’s Access to Information (ATI) Act was passed in 2002 and I believe, despite some of the weaknesses which remain in its provisions, it is an extremely important and potentially powerful tool for members of the public.

The following objectives are stated in the legislation:ati-act-objectives

In addition to some problems with the legislation itself, there can be challenges to getting the requested information. Sometimes use of the Act goes smoothly; sometimes it does not. Here’s a recent and still ongoing experience of mine.

June 17, 2016

minister-montagueI heard a radio news report  about a speech that the Minister of National Security Robert Montague had given at a function the day before, in which he had made comments about people committing crimes while on bail and the need to make changes to the Bail Act because of this.

By email, I made the following request to the Ministry of National Security (MNS) under the provisions of the ATI Act:

I would like to make an ATI request for all data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc regarding people on bail who have allegedly committed further offences while on bail.

I heard Minister Montague on a clip on the news today giving some figures at an event yesterday, which I hope would be included in the information I am requesting.

I received this response from MNS:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your Access to Information Request, which will be processed and dealt with accordingly.

I heard nothing further for two months.

 August 18, 2016

I received an email from MNS:

I am hereby making the request for an extension of time to supply information regarding your requests, the request was dispatched for the attention of the respective party that would probably have such information in their possession. However, the information has not yet been provided to this office. Thank you

September 6, 2016

I sent the following response to MNS:

I note your request for an extension of time in providing the information I requested on June 17. However, given that this request was made 60 days since I made my request, I will be referring this to the Appeal Tribunal. 
I also note that no valid reason has been given for this delay.
That same day, I filed a request for an appeal before the ATI Appeal Tribunal.

September 9, 2016

I received the following from MNS:

This is to inform that your request was forwarded to the appropriate personnel/department to supply information with regards to your request. However, the information that you desire does not rest with this office and as such we do not have direct control for when the information is supplied in most instances. I regret the delay, however the information if available, will be forwarded as soon as it is obtained, thank you.

I replied to MNS:

If the information is not held by the Ministry of National Security, then my request ought to have been transferred to the relevant government ministry/agency and I should have been notified of that transfer. I haven’t been. If the information is held by the Ministry of National Security, in whichever office or section, the requirements of the ATI Act would apply.
I have made a request to the ATI Tribunal for an appeal regarding the Ministry’s failure to provide the information.

October 14, 2016

Following some intervention by the ATI Unit, I received the following email from MNS with a document attached:

Please find attached the information that was requested Re: “Persons on Bail Committing Additional Offences”. Apologies are extended for the delay in the conveying of this response.

jcf-bail-doc-coverA copy of the document (Jamaica Constabulary Force – Assessment – Impact on Serious Crimes by Persons on Bail – June 28, 2016) is availble here: jcf-assessment-on-serious-crimes-by-persons-on-bail-28-06-16

I sent the following response to MNS:

Thank you for your email and the attached document.
I am not satisfied, however, that this fulfills my request made on June 17, 2016 for:
“all data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc regarding people on bail who have allegedly committed further offences while on bail”
to which I added the following identifier:
“I heard Minister Montague on a clip on the news today giving some figures at an event yesterday, which I hope would be included in the information I am requesting.”
 
The single document provided is a JCF report dated June 28, 2016. Since this is subsequent to the date of my request and the date on which the Minister made his public statement, I must assume that further documentation resides with the Ministry of National Security.
If indeed it is the Ministry’s position that it holds no other “data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc” as per my request, then I would appreciate a definitive statement of this.

October 21, 2016

I have not yet had a response from MNS to my email sent on October 14 and my request before the Appeal Tribunal remains in place.

Restricting Bail Provisions & the Document Provided by MNS

The issue of passing or amending legislation to restrict access to bail beyond existing provisions is not a new one. Among the six anti-crime bills passed in 2010 were two amendments to the Bail Act, which were subsequently challenged in court and in 2011 were ruled unconstitutional and therefore void. (Nation, Adrian v The Director of Public Prosecutions and The Attorney General of Jamaica)

The issue was again raised this year when Prime Minister Andrew Holness stated the Government’s intention to amend the Bail Act during his Budget Debate presentation in Parliament on May 24. ag-mmf-5-7-16Minister Montague made his speech on June 16 (Jamaica Observer, 16/6/16)  and public discussion further intensified following Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte’s Sectoral Debate presentation on July 5, in which she stated

So, Mr Speaker, we are going to touch the Bail Act, again….We are going to make some radical changes. Right now, the sentiment is one of “no bail for murder, unless self defence arises on the Crown’s case and the likelihood of an acquittal is high’.

So four months after I began my ATI quest to get documents from the Ministry of National Security giving information about people on bail who have committed further offences while on bail – documents which might empirically ground the Government’s declared intention to amend the Bail Act – I have received one document, a six-page assessment by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Only 3 of those pages deal with crimes committed by people on bail, and the information given is of a fairly cursory nature.

If this is the only document MNS has which deals with this topic, then it is frightening to think that this is what is being used to support a decision to amend the Bail Act.

If there are other documents held by MNS – or any other Ministry or public authority – then the MNS has failed in its duty to comply with the provisions of the Access to Information Act.

I await further communication from MNS or the hearing of my requested appeal before the ATI Appeal Tribunal to discover which of these two bleak possibilities is the case.

 


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350 Words or Less: Classifying the Ministry of National Security Budget

Last week (July 7) at a post-sectoral debate press briefing, Minister of National Security Robert Montague said that he intends to have his ministry’sbudget classified, thus making it unavailable publicly.The reason given for this is to prevent information within the budget being used by people with criminal intentions.Montague press conference 7-7-16 (2)

“The era of announcing details of our security programmes is over. And it is over to the extent that I am bringing a submission to Cabinet seeking to remove the National Security budget from the printed information within the national budget. And the reason for it, we have seen on our website a lot of traffic from countries and from organizations that we too have an interest in, trying to find out the size of the budget and what you spending on. And it is an intelligence gathering. We are providing those who wish to cause mayhem with vital information and this ministry is trying to cease and desist.” – Minister of National Security, Robert Montague (Transcribed from recording of Nationwide News Network newscast July 7, 2016)

The Minister says he will be taking this proposal to Cabinet, where I hope it will be reconsidered.

Openness and transparency are important and prized characteristics of governance in a modern democracy. I cannot in that context see any reason to justify the blanket withholding of the entire budget of the Ministry of National Security from public access. The majority of that budget couldn’t possibly pose any risk to national security by being in the public arena. Pages like this, for example:MNS Budget 2016-2017 - sample page

If there were a genuine and substantiated risk posed by public access to any particular items within the budget, the appropriate approach could only be to redact specific, limited items.

Does the level of information given in the budget reach the kind of operational detail that would provide useful information for criminal organizations? Page after page of the document that I looked at could never justifiably be exempt from public access. You can have a look at the budget now posted on the Ministry of Finance’s website – Estimates of Expenditure 2016-2017 – and see what you think.

MNS Budget 2016-2017 - 1st page