Monday, 30 July 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St. John's - The appointment of Alister Lincoln Thomas to the office of Information Commissioner comes after much deliberation and lengthy consideration as to who would best fit the position, and ensure that the legislation that governs the post is carried forward in the most effective manner.
This is according to Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, who said Thomas is an individual who will ensure that he does what is required and holds those on both sides of the House accountable.
In soliciting the endorsement of Parliament, the PM said that the 2004 Freedom of Information Act mandates the appointment of an Information Commissioner who must serve for no more than two terms. The last commissioner has completed her term, and Thomas is her replacement.
“The resolution sets out the terms and conditions; however the question would obviously be asked, why Alister Lincoln Thomas? I believe that this individual has the capacity, determination, desire and will to make the system work,” the PM said.
Spencer said the matter has been the subject of “serious deliberation” in terms of how to proceed with the selection and appointment of a new commissioner, and it has been determined after due consideration that Thomas brings the kind of passion and determination that would ensure that whatever is required to be done under the freedom of information legislation is done.
This, he said, is also based on discussions that were held over the years and the concerns that Thomas himself has expressed in relation to what he considered the ineffectiveness of the said office.
“I am of the view that this individual would be able to deal with this matter in the way that would bring a kind of satisfaction and focus to make it work. In order for that to happen there has to be cooperation,” the PM said.
In speaking with the Prime Minister before accepting the appointment, Thomas reportedly made it clear that he must be given the necessary scope to put things in place to make the system work as was intended without interference from either side of government.
Thomas’ appointment is for a term of 3 years commencing August 15 2012 to August 14 2015. The post carries with it remuneration of $54,000 annually or $4,400 per month, with a transportation allowance of $646 monthly. The Information commissioner will also benefit from free local telephone service and annual vacation leave of 27 days with 30 days paid sick leave.
Opposition MP Molwyn Joseph said that having reviewed the legislation from its inception he considers it one of the most important documents passed in the House. He said it was even referred to as a “revolution,” having been passed in an environment of a newly elected government. It was built on the grounds of a new government ushering in a new era of governance, Joseph said, but he questioned how the piece of legislation has contributed to the notion of good governance in the country.
“My personal view is that that whole promise has been lost … The issue in Antigua is whether or not the people have the right to experience the promise that was made in 2004,” Joseph said. The MP observed that eight years after the bill was passed parliament is yet to see a report of its operations that is mandated to be submitted within three months after the close of the year.
Joseph posited that Thomas is unqualified, since one of the key points for holding such office is to not have any political affiliations.
Thomas, he noted, was not only the founder of a political movement but is considered a notable political activist having been responsible for “keeping democracy alive in Antigua” – a legacy he should be proud of.
The prime minister suggested that Thomas’ political ambitions were irrelevant when compared to his perceived passion for democracy and transparency, and that therefore he is qualified. He said Joseph’s comments were simply a matter of “wandering” and therefore latitude must be extended on those grounds alone.
“We cannot break our own laws,” Joseph said. “I will not participate in an act that is blatant that the law is being broken … This for me is not an issue of personality.”
St. Peters MP Asot Michael stated that the Act remains ineffective especially on the part of the Antigua Labour Party, which has attempted unsuccessfully on several occasions to get information from the government on sensitive matters through this Act.
In clear disagreement with his colleague in opposition, Michael said he welcomed the appointment of Alister Thomas. The MP expressed hope that Thomas would indeed be effective in the post if the House were to go forward with the appointment, despite what Michael viewed as his clear ineligibility.
Allister Thomas had reportedly indicated some time ago his decision to withdraw from political activism, having spoken last in 2009 in that capacity.
“We cannot continue dividing small societies, we have few people in this society with the intellectual ability like Thomas that would go and fill these positions and we as the opposition expect him to go and fill this position without fear or favor,” Michael said. “We have to put our national interest first. He is an outstanding Antiguan. I welcome this motion and I welcome the appointment of Alister Thomas.”
Deputy leader of the ALP Gaston Brown said the contradicting presentations of his two colleagues were a clear indication of “democracy” within the ALP. He too maintained that the Act is currently “not working” and urged that the government and whomever it appoints must make sure that the purpose of the legislation is realized.
Brown acknowledged that Thomas does indeed have the “intellectual capacity” to hold the post and pointed out that while the rules governing the office speak to present-day political activists, it does not speak to those of the past and therefore does not affect the proposed appointment.
“I hope that he remains objective … take(s) his position and discharge(s) (his functions) in a fair and objective manner,” Brown said.
Barbuda MP Trevor Walker and St. Georges MP Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro also made contributions to the debate in support of Thomas’s appointment. Dr. Quinn-Leandro urged government ministers to ensure that an information officer is appointed within their ministry to work with the newly appointed Information Commissioner.