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Govt defers Data Protection Bill

By Clint Chan Tack Sunday, February 6 2011

GOVERNMENT bowed to the wishes of the Opposition PNM in the House of Representatives on Friday night and decided to defer passage of the Data Protection Bill 2011 until the House sits on February 11. This decision was taken by the Government after the Opposition raised several concerns about provisions in the bill being vague and counter-productive to its stated intention to protect the privacy of information of persons gathered in an electronic format.

After listening to a series of objections raised by Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert and Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon during the commitee stage of the proceedings, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar agreed to a suggestion from Imbert that the committee’s deliberations on the bill be suspended until the House sits on February 11, to allow the Opposition to submit its concerns and recommendations about the bill in writing to the Government on February 7. Imbert in turn accepted Persad-Bissessar’s proposal that representatives from the Government and Opposition meet at the Red House on February 9, before the House sits on that day, to further discuss the matter and reach consensus regarding the Data Protection Bill’s passage in the House on February 11.

During the committee’s deliberations, which became heated at times, the Government deleted provisions in the bill regarding political opinions being included as part of the legislation but refused to budge on information regarding sexual orientation. Responding to Imbert’s objections that employers were not covered by the legislation, Persad-Bissessar said Government had no intention to discriminate against employees.

Earlier in the sitting, during debate on the bill, Imbert rejected boasts by Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Collin Partap that the bill had its genesis from one of seven pillars in the People’s Partnership election manifesto. Quoting from Hansard, Imbert said the records showed that the bill was first debated in the House on February 13, 2009 by the then PNM government. “There is no way this legislation can be part of any pillar or post of the People’s Partnership. This is a carbon copy of a PNM bill. Your coalition came together in February 2010, one year after,” Imbert declared as PNM MPs thumped their desks in support.

Arguing that the 2011 bill was virtually the same as its 2009 version, Imbert said it was ironic that Partap had not consulted Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal who indicated last April that the legislation was flawed in several areas. Imbert said the reason why the PNM never passed the bill but sent it to a joint select committee was because it accepted there were deficiencies in the bill and agreed with many of the issues raised by Moonilal then. When Moonilal told Imbert the bill was first piloted under a UNC government in 2001, Imbert countered that must have been “a collapsed bill” because the UNC collapsed as a government at that time and never passed the bill.

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