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Oceana at regional FIO Conference in Jamaica

Press Release Date: April 9, 2013

Location: Belize City, Belize


Oceana at regional FIO Conference in Jamaica

Kingston, Jamaica, March 20, 2013

– Oceana in Belize has been participating in a two-day Regional Conference on Freedom of Information in the Commonwealth Caribbean dealing with “Improving Management for the Environment”. Oceana’s VP was today a presenter at the Conference being held in Kingston Jamaica under the patronage of several organizations including the Host JET (Jamaica Environment Trust) and the sponsors Commonwealth Foundation, UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Office of the Information Commissioner – Cayman Island.

The event was declared open by the Honourable Sandra Falconer, Office of the Prime Minister, Jamaica who said that, “There is need to share information and that her Government has come a long way in appreciating that need.”

In day one panelist discussed the Regional Instrument for Latin America and Caribbean: Principle 10 – Rio Declaration, which addressed access to information, public participation and access to justice. This is an instrument which has several Latin American signatories, but Jamaica is the only Caribbean signatory so far and the move is to seek support of regional governments to sign on and implementing their jurisdiction. Panelist also presented on what is the state of the Freedom of Information Act, its use and effectiveness, progress and challenges in the region. A stark comparison was made of jurisdiction such as Belize where less than a dozen information requests has been documents since the Act was passed in 1994 and Cayman Island, with 20% the population of Belize. And where 3000 request have already been made under the FOIA. Presenting on behalf of the Office of the Ombudsman in Belize was the legal officer, Oscar William-Selgado, who explained that every attempt is being made to improve the office and its response to ensuring citizen’s access to information.

Presenting on the topic: “Freedom of Information as a tool of Better governance” was Oceana’s VP Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who spoke about her experience using the FOIA to access information about the petroleum contracts from the Department of Petroleum & Geology, in the Ministry of Natural resources. Matura-Shepherd presented letters from March 2011 when the first request was made about proof of the qualifications of the offshore oil companies who received oil concession to drill in Belize’s marine area, including in protected areas, World Heritage Sites and reef areas. She presented copies of the only two letter ever received from Inspector of Geology Andre Cho, the last one dated April 19, 2011 which states “..Please be advised that our Legal Counsel is reviewing these and we shall respond to you by Friday April 29, 2011.” However no response was ever received and even the required letter to the Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega, has gone unanswered. She reported that the final attempt to have information disclosed was through the office of the Ombudsman, which got a response in which warned the Petroleum Department that “failure to respond to any reasonable request …represents and offence under Article 30 of the Ombudsman Act” but nothing has been done beyond that as the post was vacant for a while.

The conference continues tomorrow when enforcement mechanism of FOIA will be discussed from a regional perspective.