Jamaicans should find no comfort in the recent decision of the Office of the Services Commissions (OSC) to deny media request for the contract specifics of the Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson, Tax Commissioner Ainsley Powell, and senior members of the JCF from the rank of assistant commissioner upwards, and for permanent secretaries.
Under the Access To Information Act and the subsequent denial, this request must be viewed ultimately as a failure of the Act itself to definitively set out in the clearest terms possible, under what circumstance such denials may be lawful under the Act.
In response to the request and explaining its decision, the (OSC) responded, “This office is restrained from providing the information you requested.” The (OCS) response cited Section 22 (1) of the ATI Act, which allows an authority to block access to an official document, if it involves “unreasonable disclosure” of a person’s private affairs.
It is difficult to imagine how the Act could have been written to protect public employees’ salaries from public scrutiny, considering that the same taxpayers directly pay those salaries and other remunerations.
Various individuals and interest groups have come out on either side of the issue, with former Commissioner of Police Owen Wellington coming out supporting the decision, arguing that the privacy issues should be considered legitimate reasons for the denial.
However, from a practical standpoint, it is inconceivable to see what privacy issues could outweigh the public’s right to have that information, again considering that the public pays their salaries.
Under what circumstances would revealing their salaries jeopardize the public employee’s privacy? Have the (OSC) ever heard of redacting?
The service commission is not a body elected by the Jamaican people, but is appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime minister, in consultation with the Leader of the political opposition.
Two (2) of those members are nominated by the General Legal Council, none of whom should be actively practicing Law.
Violent crime continues to increase despite the measures the Government has implemented. It is curious, to say the least, that the Minister responsible for National Security would announce that the Police Commissioner’s contract would be extended, yet, according to the (OSC), the people have no right to know how much they are paying him.
No one should be under any illusion that this decision is solely that of the (OSC), or that the Government’s fingerprints aren’t all over it.
It is quite understandable that people with special skills are sometimes employed on a contractual basis. Based on those skills, they are sometimes specially compensated outside the norms of what otherwise would have been paid.
However, it is difficult to see what those special skills could be as it relates to the blanket refusal by the (OSC).
The media should not relinquish its pursuit to retrieve this information, even if there is no pressing need for it. Under no circumstances should public servants paid with tax dollars have any expectation of blanket privacy, much less privacy from the disclosure of how much they are paid.
Giving in to these blatant abuses by Government is to continually see our rights abridged by the very people we elect and pay to serve us.
Allowing an unelected entity to stand in the way of information that ought to be in the public domain in the first place, is atrocious and should not be allowed to stand.
Mike Beckles is a former Police Detective, businessman, freelance writer, black achiever honoree, and creator of the blog mikebeckles.com.