Trinidad and Tobago – Parliament considers restrictive amendments to the Freedom of Information Act
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned by the implications that proposed amendments to Trinidad and Tobago’s Freedom of Information Act have for press freedom and calls on Parliament to allow for an opportunity for public consultation on the matter.
Members of Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliament will debate on June 14 a bill that includes a proposal to amend the nation’s Freedom of Information Act. If passed, this amendment would ensure that public authority cannot deny any information request until receiving approval from the Attorney General, giving broad decision-making power in the hands of one state-appointed individual. The period for the Attorney General’s approval or denial would be 90 days.
The amendment would also extend the period public authority is required to respond to an information request—after receiving approval from the Attorney General—from the current 30 days to 45, meaning it could take several months for Freedom of Information requests to be fulfilled. The amendment initially proposed the period be extended to 90 days, but in response to public outcry the Attorney General announced on June 11 that it would be cut down.
“When it comes to playing their roles as watchdogs to ensure government accountability, few journalists have the luxury of waiting six months to receive a response to their request for public information,” said Daphne Pellegrino, Advocacy Manager of RSF’s North America bureau. “The proposed amendments to Trinidad and Tobago’s Freedom of Information Act, which would stifle the very freedom the law was built to protect, are clearly not in the public’s interest. We believe it is, however, in the public’s interest for Parliament to reject this proposal.”
Trinidad and Tobago ranks 39th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after dropping five places last year.