QC Wilkin Talks Constitutional Right Of Access To Information. By LK Hewlett

22

The escalated pace of life and need for instant information in today’s high-tech world presents serious ethical issues, opines Charles Wilkin QC. The Queens Counsel addressed UNESCO’s OECS 2-day workshop on “The Ethical Dimensions of the Information Society and Internet Privacy held in St. Kitts Sept 23-24. “Despite its benefits, the Information Age has its challenges… It does also however provide the tools to enlighten the world, to counter the negative effects of the vices, to bring out the positive traits of human nature and to allow the interaction of cultures which can contribute to that process. This should be a major focus of the Information Society,” he said. Wilkin pointed out that the right to information is a fundamental one set out in the St. Kitts and Nevis constitution, however Commonwealth Caribbean countries have been burdened with constitutions which create “elective dictatorship”. That is all the more reason therefore, he noted, for the effective recognition and practice of the right to know. In order for the people to exercise their franchise effectively by way of elections, they should have adequate knowledge of what the government is doing, he stated, adding that the government “has huge power and the machinery to withhold or hide information”. Speaking to the ‘right to know’, QC Wilkin said the right to government held information is a key aspect. Enacting legislation such as Freedom of Information creates a balancing act between the right of the citizen to know and the obvious public interest in keeping some information confidential, he said. “Freedom of Information legislation would help to promote democracy and less secretive governance in St. Kitts and Nevis. It is by no means however the panacea which some like to think that it could be…The legislation is therefore a good tool but not a substitute for a general change of culture to enlightened governance. Nor is it a substitute for general vigilance on the part of the public to combat a lack of transparent governance.” The media is another key component, Wilkin added, as it is important in keeping the government in check by allowing the public to express their views in exercise of the right of free speech and in transmitting information and views in exercise of the right to know. “The armory for the effective exercise of the right to know lies in great measure in freedom of information legislation, access to government owned media and a free and independent media. But without the exercise by civil society of its critical role in a democracy and without vigilance by the society, generally that armory can be meaningless.”