Saturday, 04 August 2012 02:30
By press release
Antigua St. John’s – Molwyn Joseph, Opposition MP for St. Mary’s North, has stated his objection to the United Progressive Party’s choice of Alister Thomas for Information Commissioner.
His main contention is that Thomas’ appointment would be a breach the Freedom of Information Act, passed by the UPP in 2004, which disqualifies anyone who is a member of a political party or is a political activist from holding the position.
However, on July 30, Parliament confirmed Thomas as the new Information Commissioner for a period of three years, effective August 15, 2012.
It must be noted that one of Joseph’s opposition colleagues – St Peter’s MP Asot Michael – disagreed with Joseph during the parliamentary session by stating that he welcomed the appointment, and expressed hope that Thomas would be effective in the post, despite what Michael viewed as his clear ineligibility.
Opposition MP for St John’s Rural West Gaston Browne also acknowledged that Thomas had 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.
It is against this backdrop that the opposition Antigua Labour Party on Friday released a statement that suggests the party on a whole has taken the position that Thomas’ appointment is clearly in contravention of the Freedom of Information Act of 2004. The statement is reproduced in its entirety:
“The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ALP) has had an opportunity to listen to portions of an interview of the new Information Commissioner Alister Thomas, conducted on a local radio station, yesterday August 2, 2012. The ALP is of the view that Thomas has not persuaded the listeners that he is no longer a political activist; neither did he give assurances of his intent to fulfill his duties as Information Commissioner without fear or favour.
“The people of Antigua and Barbuda remain committed to the rule of law and, in this case, to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act when appointing an Information Commissioner. The law, passed by the United Progressive Party (UPP) regime, in November 2004, declares that anyone who “is a member of a political party or who is a political activist” is ineligible to be named the Information Commissioner.
The people of Antigua and Barbuda want to have a professional who can be trusted to perform his/her duties, Mr. Spencer told everyone in 2004. He named a retired school teacher to the post back in 2006.
“The ALP remains suspicious of the motives of Mr. Spencer in nominating the new Information Commissioner, a week ago, and equally doubtful of the possible effectiveness of the new Commissioner to carry out his functions in an impartial manner.
“The ALP remembers that political activist Mr. Bruce Goodwin was named to the Electoral Commission by the then Opposition Leader Mr. Baldwin Spencer, in 2001; and that, Mr. Spencer vigorously defended Commissioner Bruce Goodwin’s political activism in 2003, against claims of his unworthiness as an Electoral Commissioner.
After Mr. Spencer became Prime Minister, he subsequently established an Investigative Tribunal to enquire into and to punish a political activist appointed by the Opposition Leader to the same Electoral Commission, in 2010. The glaring hypocrisy of Mr. Spencer, both in words and actions, in removing the Opposition Leader’s choice from the Electoral Commission, leaves the ALP in doubt of his motive and his truthfulness in appointing Mr. Alister Thomas at this time.
“The Legislation is clear: No political activist is to be appointed to the post of Information Commissioner. Either Mr. Spencer intends to obey the law or he does not. If Mr. Alister Thomas is a political activist or a member of a political party then he cannot be Information Commissioner. The ALP remains convinced that Mr. Alister Thomas is excluded by the requirements of the law, and that Mr. Spencer’s action is cynical and contravenes the law which he passed.
The ALP intends to test the worthiness of this Information Commissioner since his appointment has been confirmed by a resolution of Parliament.”