St. Kitts And Nevis Enhances Transparency With Passage Of Freedom Of Information (Amendment) Bill, 2024

AG Garth Wilkin.
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Basseterre, St. Kitts – The Federal Parliament of St. Kitts and Nevis has bolstered the nation’s commitment to transparency and good governance with the successful passage of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, 2024, on Friday, July 05, 2024. Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, the Honourable Garth Wilkin, who moved the second reading of the Bill, said it introduces key changes to improve the operational efficiency and oversight of the Freedom of Information framework.

AG Garth Wilkin.

According to AG Wilkin, this amendment seeks to enable either the Ombudsman or the Special Prosecutor to serve as the Information Commissioner. He said that the original Freedom of Information Act, passed in 2018, was not operationalized until an amendment in February 2023, with full implementation achieved in November 2023. This Act is pivotal in providing a mechanism for public and press access to non-confidential government information while safeguarding sensitive information related to commercial interests, national security, law enforcement, and legal professional privilege to name a few.

The role of the Information Commissioner, as defined by the Act, includes supervising the access process, handling complaints, conducting investigations, creating policies, and reporting to the national assembly. The Commissioner is appointed for a three-year term, renewable for a maximum of two terms, and cannot hold another public office simultaneously.

The Honourable Garth Wilkin explained the rationale behind the amendment, noting the overlapping responsibilities of the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner and the potential for budgetary efficiency.

“The intention of the ministry is for the Ombudsman to also serve as the Information Commissioner because both posts have overlapping responsibilities and, for budgetary reasons, given the workload of both offices, it can be managed by one public officer. So, Madam Speaker, a very simple Bill. What it does, it seeks to allow for the Ombudsman or Special Prosecutor to qualify for the appointment of Information Commissioner,” he said.

Wilkin further detailed that the current Acting Ombudsman is intended to take on the dual role, streamlining processes for aggrieved individuals seeking information or launching investigations. He emphasised the flexibility of the arrangement, noting that should the workload become too heavy, the roles could be split without further legislative changes.

“So this is not a set-in-stone move. And this gives us the flexibility to allow for what we think at the moment is a process and a service that can be done by one individual serving two roles,” said AG Wilkin.

Additionally, the amendment aligns the tenure of the Information Commissioner with that of the Ombudsman and members of the Integrity Commission, extending the term to a maximum of five years with eligibility for reappointment.

“Life is very much about balance. On this side [the government benches], it is important for us to ensure that there is transparency, accountability, and good governance in our society, but also to respect the people’s purse. And this Bill is a balance of ensuring that there is effective good governance infrastructure whilst preserving the people’s purse, Madam Speaker,” stated AG Wilkin. “And I think it is important for us to always keep clarity of mind, as well as balance in everything that we do.”

He further added that the passage of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, 2024, underscores St. Kitts and Nevis’ commitment to enhancing transparency, accountability, and good governance, while also ensuring fiscal responsibility.

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, 2024, had its first reading on February 22, 2024.

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