The Access to Information Act (2002) gives the public a general right of access to official government information which would otherwise be inaccessible.
The Act grants public access to a raft of government documents, including some from Cabinet, which were previously listed as classified.
The Act aims to reinforce fundamental democratic principles vital to:
- Improved, more transparent government
- Greater accountability of government to its people
- Increased public influence on and participation in national decision making
- Knowledge of the functions of government
The ATI Act signals a ground breaking departure from the mystery surrounding government and its day to day activities.
However, some categories of documents are exempt from disclosure under the Act.
Documents excluded from the ATI Act include, but are not limited to:
- National economy which could harm the economy
- Security, defence and international relations
- Related to the Cabinet
- Law enforcement
- Legal privilege
- Government's deliberative processes
- Trade secrets
- Personal privacy of individuals
The Permanent Secretary of each ministry of the particular ministry, or the CEO of the Government agency has the right to deny a request; especially of releasing the information could cause national instability.
Some exempt documents are, however, subject to public interest tests. Release of exempt documents may also be achieved through an Order of the Minister responsible for Information or after the expiration of 20 years after their creation, or such shorter or longer period as the Minister may specify by Order.
Additionally, section 32 of the ATI Act makes provision for the establishment of an ATI Appeals Tribunal. An appeal can also be made to the Tribunal if the government body has refused to grant access to documents, where partial access to official documents have been given, where access has been deferred or where a public authority refuses to change information concerning you if it is incomplete, misleading or out of date.
The Access to Information Unit was established to spearhead and guide the implementation and administration of the Access to Information Act 2002. The ATI Unit falls under the ambit of the Office of the Prime Minister.
Access to Information Act (2002)