Government’s plan to digitize more than 60,000 records at the Police Certificate of Character Department over a two-month period has fallen behind.
And Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Dale Marshall has suggested that this was a part of the reason the promised Freedom of Information Bill would not see the light of day in the short-term.
“One of the things about governance is that you can pass all of the laws you like – in fact, passing laws is easy – but how you implement those laws is a completely different thing,” Marshall told the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (BCCI) breakfast seminar at the Hilton Resort on Wednesday.
He explained that should someone request a document from the Attorney General’s Office currently, there was a possibility they would get something that was illegible or it would take months before they receive the information because the handwriting would first have to be figured out.
“For the past 300 years everything on alternate pages of a government file is in the handwriting of individuals. We have just agreed to digitize all the records for the police so we can get police certificates of character within three days. The reasonable estimate is that it will take six weeks to digitize this data. There are 60,000 records and six weeks have passed and they have only managed to digitize 15,000 of the 60,000,” he explained.
“After six weeks it is only 25 per cent [completed] . . . then it was pointed out to me, ‘sir, the reason we can’t digitize it faster is because all of the police records are in handwriting. So before we can digitize it we have to decipher it’. And some of those police officers are dead and gone and nobody knows what third word on the second line is, for example,” he said.
While acknowledging that it was always the intention of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration to introduce a Freedom of Information Bill during its first term in office, Marshall made it clear that the bill could not come unless the proper systems were first put in place so the process could work effectively.
“So yes, it is coming. It is in our five-year term but before we pass it we have to change how the public service deals with records and documents. Otherwise we will have the law on the books but we will not be able to meet those requests in any meaningful or timely fashion,” said Marshall.
As part of its transformation process Government has promised to digitize its records and introduce greater use of technology.
And as part of the Retooling, Empowering, Retraining and Enfranchisement (RERE) initiative under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme, the digitization process began on April 23, starting with the Police Certificate of Character Department of the police force.
There are six retrenched workers who were brought back to facilitate the process and another two people were also employed in April to clean records at the Registration Department before the digitization process began there.
More people are expected to be hired through private vendors as the digitization programme continues.
The Registration and Immigration Departments are next in line to be digitized. The other departments in the first phase will include the Ministry of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Town and Country Development Planning Office, Customs and the Barbados Licensing Authority.