By Alexis R. Milan Staff Reporter
Hubert Enriquez, Chairman of the Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) Party, said Belize should take note of Mexico’s recent reforms to their transparency systems and demand greater transparency and accountability from the government.
Enriquez told The Reporter that better legislation is necessary in Belize as it relates to access of information.
“This is something that we’ve always and will continue to demand,” said Enriquez.
According to Enriquez, Belize’s current access-to-information law should be strengthened because it is still very difficult to access vital documents. He cited VIP’s numerous requests for government transparency.
Enriquez added that there should even be customer service standards for government departments to provide quality information to the Belizean public in a timely manner.
In February, Mexico enacted new transparency regulations that have given The Federal Institute on Access to Information (IFAI) constitutional autonomy, which, Transparency International, describes as the first of its kind.
The reform also subjects more bodies to transparency laws including political parties, unions, civil society organizations, corporations, government, congress and the judiciary.
Under the reform laws, decisions made by the IFAI cannot be appealed unless the Presidency makes an appeal on the grounds of protecting national security.
On the other hand, Part Four of Belize’s Access to Information Act 2000 states:
“Where a Minister is satisfied that the disclosure under this Act of a document would be contrary to the public interest for a reason referred to in subsection (1), he may sign a certificate to that effect and such a certificate, so long as it remains in force, shall establish conclusively that the document is an exempt document.”
In contrast to this portion of Belize’s legislation, the website of the Cayman Island’s Information Commissioner states:
“The Freedom of Information Law 2007 (“FOI Law”) of the Cayman Islands is based on the principle that the government should rarely, and only in compelling circumstances, possess more information than citizens possess.
“The FOI Law takes away the discretion of government to determine what information, if any, they choose to provide, when, and to whom. It replaces this discretion with a set of rules that apply when responding to a freedom of information request.”
The Information Commissioner’s website also stated that individuals are not required to give any reasons for requesting information and that the government can only refuse to do so in 11 specific circumstances, of which the Information Commissioner can overrule all but one. The Cayman Island’s Information Commissioner’s Office is an independent entity responsible for monitoring compliance with the FOI Law.