Research Reveals Jamaicans Still Have Limited Access to Information Despite Legislation

Rachel Mulbry (Posted: December 9, 2014)

A new report reveals that Jamaica’s progress on public participation and access to information is inadequate despite having enacted laws and establishing governance structures to enable this. The published report is the outcome of a partnership between The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Windsor Research Centre, Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (CCAM) and the North Cockpit Country Local Forest Management Foundation to assess the state of access rights in Jamaica.

Access rights are: access to information, public participation and access to justice. The Jamaican TAI assessment, conducted over the period November 2013 to June 2014, was based on research using eighteen case studies that involve the use of access rights. The case studies covered a wide range of issues such as emergency events, air and water quality testing, approval of projects and reporting from facilities. These case studies were chosen for their relevance to areas of important biological diversity such as Cockpit Country, the Portland Bight Protected Area and Black River.

Entitled, “Environmental Information, Participation and Justice: An Assessment by The Access Initiative Jamaica”, the report reveals that while Jamaica has made significant strides in enacting laws on Access to Information and establishing independent and impartial courts and tribunals, there are severe limitations in the laws and practice in granting rights to the public to learn about and participate in projects, environmental policies and plans. A worrying issue uncovered is the delay in receiving decisions of courts and tribunals on environmental matters. This was highlighted in the case study of a request for information regarding the lease agreements for the Falmouth Cruise Ship pier made in September 2012. The request was denied by the Port Authority of Jamaica and an appeal was filed by JET to the Access to Information Appeals Tribunal. The appeal was heard on November 25, 2013 and December 3, 2013 and over one year later, the parties have not yet received the Tribunal’s decision.

The report not only identifies shortcomings in laws and practice but also outlines recommendations for reform. “It is anticipated that these findings will assist the Jamaican Government and civil society to make effective changes to promote access rights and strengthen the public’s voice in decisions that affects the environment and quality of life”, says Danielle Andrade, Legal Director of JET.

The TAI Jamaica Report was launched on November 20, 2014 at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston. The Jamaican coalition is part of The Access Initiative (TAI), a global coalition of civil society groups working to promote better access to information, participation, and justice in national‐level decisions that affect the environment in over 50 countries. The report was funded by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund through a grant to the World Resources Institute (WRI) which is the secretariat for The Access Initiative (TAI). The report is now being circulated to key GOJ stakeholders and civil society partners. Read the executive summary here.