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Government launches Official Information Act implementation plan

(PINA/IFEX) - Cook Islands has launched the country's Official Information Act (OIA) implementation plan, reports "Cook Islands News".

"We are the first Pacific Island jurisdiction to introduce a freedom of information regime and there is a lot of interest from other Pacific Island countries who are considering a similar thing," said deputy Prime minister Sir Terepai Maoate.

Sir Terepai said there were a wide range benefits for introducing the act which includes achieving a less corrupt society, ensuring privacy is respected, makes governments more efficient and politics more democratic.

"I have said that if we do the best job that we possibly can, why should we be afraid of the public knowing what we do? People working for the government have to be aware that they have to do the right thing- all the time."

Seven ministries volunteered to come under the act when it comes into force on 11 February 2009. They are justice, cultural development, public service commissioner's office, police, marine resources, internal affairs and health.

However with a delay in the preparation of the ministries for commencement of the OIA, it is proposed that through an amendment to the bill - which is currently before parliament - to have the OIA apply initially to police. To give the other six ministries time to prepare, the OIA will apply to them on 11 March.

Deputy Police Commissioner Maara Tetava said they had been looking at the legislation since February 2008. Police staff have been undergoing and will continue OIA training and a specific person has been employed solely to deal with request for information under OIA.

"We are pretty confident that we are able to fully comply with the legislation come the time the act comes into force," Tetava says.

Ombudsman Janet Maki said she was the solicitor general at the time the OIA first came to her attention. "I have to say that when it came to my desk I wasn't in support of the bill because I didn't recognise the importance of it as I did not think it was necessary and thought it would create an additional burden on our ministries."

However on taking the role of ombudsman, Maki had to filter many complaints due to poor record keeping. She realises the act would see better record keeping by government agencies.

"It will bring a vast improvement in terms of administration and government transparency," said Ms Maki.

A series of public service awareness and training activities have been planned in January with a person from Archives New Zealand flying in to review recordkeeping systems within the six volunteer ministries.

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