Opposition members prevailed on the Government on Friday to suspend consideration of the Data Protection Bill, claiming there were too many flaws. The suspension came at committee stage in Parliament, as both sides sought to amend the bill's clauses which seek to provide protection of individuals' privacy.
During his contribution to the debate, Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert accused the Government of copying the bill from the People's National Movement and presenting it as their own. "There is no difference with this (bill) and the legislation in 2009...This is a carbon copy with a few changes," Imbert said.
"They are picking up legislation that has serious flaws. All they change is a few words: a semi colon and a full stop. It is cut and paste." Imbert said there were several deficiencies with the bill, among them lack of clear-cut policies; failure to consult with the public on data protection; qualifications outlined for jobs not being sufficiently specific, while discriminating against some employees. "Don't push it to the Joint Select Committee...It went to the JSC with a lot of flaws which were ventilated already," Imbert pleaded. "What we really have here are clauses that raise red flags." While the bill was being addressed, Opposition members began identifying deficiencies.
Imbert intervened, asking the Government to return on Wednesday "to fix the bill," since it discriminated against some government workers, among them Tobago House of Assembly staffers. Speaking earlier, Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon expressed concern that the bill, that could make the President subject to divulging information into the custody and control of an Information Commissioner. She described the bill as legislation first brought forward by the PNM and said it was important for the protection of private information but subsequently outlined her queries regarding clauses in the bill. She questioned whether the President or the Cabinet would be required to be audited by the Information Commissioner. Gopee-Scoon also suggested an amendment that allowed the commissioner to have all the powers necessary to carrying out his duty if he is to be effective.
She highlighted a clause in the bill which stated that the Information Commissioner could exercise his power only with the consent of the House Speaker or the President of the Senate and added that the commissioner's hands would be tied without consent given. "Without consent from the Speaker or the Senate President, there would be no recourse," she said. Gopee-Scoon recommended that the bill be re-examined, calling it bad legislation, and expressed her desire that the bill be more explicit. She described the legislation brought forward as unclear and compared it to a blank cheque, with details to be filled in after.
Laventille West MP Ni leung Hypolite expressed similar sentiments, asking the Government to clean up the bill and "come back." Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar complied. Persad-Bissessar said she did not want to discriminate against anyone, prompting government chief whip Dr Roodal Moonlial to defer further consideration to February 11.