FIJI FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL DRAFTED

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 11, 1998 - PACNEWS/INCL)---The Fiji government has drafted a freedom of information bill under which members of the public would have a legal right of access to information held by government departments and ministers.

Provision for the bill is made in Fiji's new Constitution, which came into effect last July.

It was recommended by the Constitution Review Commission, chaired by New Zealand's Sir Paul Reeves, and charged with reviewing Fiji's controversial "racially balanced" 1990 Constitution.

Britain's Thompson Foundation also recommended such a bill after reviewing Fiji's media laws recently.

Under the bill, government ministries and departments would be required to publish information about their functions and make documents available for the public to inspect and purchase.

However, the draft bill says the government can withhold information if it affects the country's security, its laws, and when it endangers a person's safety.

Those excluded are the President, the Great Council of Chiefs, the courts, commissions of inquiry, the Fiji Intelligence Service, and any government company reorganized under the Public Enterprise Act.

Where a government ministry refuses to provide the required information, members of the public can apply to the Ombudsman for a review of the ministry's decision.

Parliament's Legal Select Committee is reviewing the bill and has asked for public submissions, before the bill is finalized and taken to Parliament for debate.

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