by Eulana Weekes
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Parliamentarians gathered in the House of Assembly on November 20 to debate several Bills including the “Unauthorised Disclosure of Official Information Bill 2023” which According to Attorney General, Garth Wilkin, had become necessary in order to protect sensitive, confidential and privileged Government documents and information.
“In frank and plain language Madam Speaker, a culture has developed in our Civil Service where there is no respect for the confidentiality of sensitive Government information and documents,” Wilkin stated.
The “Unauthorised Disclosure of Official Information Act 2023” complements the Freedom of Information Act.
The Freedom of Information Act gives the press and the general public access to certain Government information; but the “Unauthorised Disclosure of Official Information Act 2023” serves to prevent the leakage of confidential, privileged and sensitive information to the public or the press.
Some of the sensitive information, includes but not limited to, personal information about the general public and civil servants; privileged information in legal proceedings; information likely to cause serious prejudice to the defence or national security of St. Kitts and Nevis; information likely to cause serious prejudice to the ability of the Government to manage the economy of St. Kitts and Nevis or to the legitimate commercial or financial interest of our public; information to likely cause serious prejudice to the effective formulation or development of Government policy; information obtained in confidence from another state or international organisation and to communicate it, which would likely cause serious prejudice to the relations with that state or international organisation; the assessment of collection of any tax or duty or the operation of immigration controls; and information likely to cause serious prejudice to the prevention or detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders or the administration of justice.
The stance taken with the “Unauthorised Disclosure of Official Information Bill 2023” is not unique to the Federation, as other countries have put in place similar legislations aimed at protecting sensitive Government information.
Government employees in St. Kitts and Nevis have had sensitive Government information in their personal email inboxes and have also leaked Cabinet documents to the public, said Wilkin.
“The protection of sensitive government information is not a local issue. It is an international standard; even in the legal framework of our mighty northern neighbour. Why do you think Former President [Donald] Trump is in hot water for allegedly carrying his top secret Presidential files to Mar-a-Lago; President Biden is in hot water for allegedly keeping his secret Obama-Biden Administration records in his garage and Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was in hot water for allegedly using a private email server for official public communications rather than using the official State Department email accounts maintained on Federal servers? This is because the operation of a Government is serious business. Certain sensitive Government documents and files should remain confidential to protect national security, preserve diplomatic relationships, maintain integrity of ongoing investigations and safeguard sensitive information crucial for effective financial planning.”
A real scenario in recent weeks was the unauthorised disclosure of the Cabinet Secretary’s Minutes about Value Added Tax (VAT) Reduced Days for St. Kitts and Nevis. The information quickly surfaced on social media before an official announcement was made by the Cabinet.
The Attorney General issued a plea to the “bloggers for hire”.
“So I encourage everyone listening to tell the bloggers for hire to stop taking money from nefarious politicians to tell our people lies. Tell those bloggers to stop the lies while we do the work of the people and stop the leaks.”
Individuals in breach of the “Unauthorised Disclosure of Official Information Act 2023” can in some instances, be subjected on summary conviction, to a fine of EC $20,000, or six month imprisonment or to both; a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both and a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both.