Opposition senator and attorney-at-law, Jayanti Lutchmedial, said the decision of the Court of Appeal in a matter initiated by activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj against TSTT is an important victory for transparency and accountability, more so at a time when state and state controlled enterprises are “restructuring” and job losses are imminent.
Back in 2017, a request was made under the Freedom of Information Act for information relating to the organizational structure of TSTT and salaries paid to top management.
Although successful at the High Court, TSTT appealed this matter in an attempt to argue that the FOIA does not apply to that company based on its minority shareholding and to avoid disclosing the information.
Lutchmedial, in a statement on Saturday said, “the FOIA is one of the most powerful tools available to all stakeholders and even the average citizen to examine the operations of ministries, politically appointed boards in state enterprises and any other organization which in essence belongs to the taxpayer. It is the means whereby public expenditure can be examined, decisions on appointments and promotions can be scrutinized and all decisions affecting workers’ rights can be reviewed.”
She said, “The FOIA and Judicial Review Act, both introduced by the UNC government of 1995-2001 were spotlights which illuminated the dark corridors which led to the boardrooms occupied by high public officials, allowing citizens the right to examine and scrutinize documents previously shrouded in secrecy and bureaucracy.”
“TSTT has now been told that it cannot hide in the darkness. It must consider all requests made under the FOIA and if the request is refused, that decision to refuse can go before a Court who will determine whether disclosure is in the public interest,” Lutchmedial added.
According to the senator, “This judgement could not come at a more opportune time, as TSTT and WASA workers seem destined to follow the fate of the workers at Petrotrin and they are contemplating their future. Contractors and other creditors are also lining up outside state companies, some with judgements awarding them millions of dollars, and they are left to wonder when they will be paid.”
She said, the government and their appointed boards cannot continue to operate as though they are not accountable to the people of this country.
Lutchmedial added, “As the saying made popular by the Washington Post goes “Democracy dies in darkness” and so we intend to use the FOIA to its fullest extent in order to continue shining a light on government’s plans and operations at TSTT, WASA and all state enterprises to ensure transparency, accountability and good governance.”