Special Prosecutor April Dawn Cripps said her office is being subjected to “push backs” making access to public information from government offices an issue.
Cripps was invited as one of the speakers on the topic of the Open Government Act during the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme and Palau Media Council’s Budget Media Training on Feb. 28.
Cripps said she has had a hard time collecting public records or information from government agencies and ministries, although several laws in Palau mandates transparency in government actions.
Special Prosecutor Cripps has worked as a prosecutor in Palau since she was swore-in office late 2018.
She said since she started working in 2018, she had 28 cases and now has increased to 48 in 2019.
She noted that one of the problems when working on a case is access to laws and codes. She said Palau does not seem to havean organized up to date system for easier and simpler access to codes and laws.
The Open Government Act is aimed at promoting accessibility, accountability, and openness of the government, ensuring that the public has the right to access public documents and attend public meetings.
“Even though the [Special Prosecutor’s] Act allows us to go into any government office and talk to any person from the president down to the janitor and ask for information, ask to see the references and ask for their help, we get pushed back in almost every place we go,” SP Cripps told the members of the media attending the workshop.
She said government offices would tell her that it is culturally disrespectful to give public records or information.
“ I can’t keep wasting time trying to get evidence and evidence is usually in the record for us,” she said.
“I’m not trying to be mean and not trying to be rude,… and that’s the one thing I’m still trying to work with the culture and not be rude while I’m doing something.. I can’t let cultural ideas stop me.”
She, however, reminded government officials and employees that denying access to public information is not only a violation of the Open Government Act but various laws as well.
Cripps said any individuals who violate such laws could be subject to prosecution or lawsuit.