In a significant initiative during COVID-19 period back in 2020, the Government Printing Department under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office, had no other choice than to stop physical printing of Government Gazettes and introduce e-publishing of the Gazettes, putting an end to paper waste and the long wait for the dispatch of essential documents. In fact, with a simple click, subscribers had access to copies of such notifications on the official website of the Government Printing Department https://gpd.govmu.org/Pages/Index.aspx as soon as the documents were published.
Subsequently, subscribers would have thought that the long wait for the shift from printed Gazette notifications to e-publishing had come to an end. Unfortunately, and as of date of putting pen to paper there are no more e-Gazettes uploaded on the official website of the Government Printing Department and we are now back to square one!
Could the long wait of shifting to the e-system be possibly over with the promulgation of the Revision of Laws (Amendment) Act 2022?
What are Government Gazettes?
The Gazette (Privilege) Act 1825 has introduced the Gazettes as ‘première publication des actes du Gouvernement et des avis judiciaires…’.
According to Section 12(2) of the Interpretation and General Clauses Act (“IGCA”), the Gazette is considered as the sole official publication of all enactments and public notices under the Seal of Mauritius. It is authentic in content, accurate and strictly in accordance with the Government policies and decisions. The gazette is printed by the Mauritius Government Printing Office.
Gazette Notification is an important legal requirement to validate, authenticate and to make effective various kinds of Laws, Acts, Rules, Orders and Government decisions.
Section 16 of the IGCA further provides as follows:
(1) Where by any enactment, a publication is required to be made in the Gazette, a copy of the Gazette containing the publication shall be evidence of the facts stated in the publication and shall be conclusive evidence of the fact of publication.
(2) Every enactment enrolled in the Supreme Court and every legal supplement to the Gazette shall remain on record in the Supreme Court and judicial officers shall take cognizance of them and their contents without further or other proof.
Back in 2020, subscribers and even the non-subscribers could download and print all Gazette notifications free of charge. In the most wonderful worlds, one would expect that the accessibility of Government Gazettes remains free of charge to all online users! However, one would totally understand that the effective and efficient printing services and timely dissemination of information bear a cost of production and therefore, only subscribers should have access to same. E-publishing assumes importance since many Gazette notifications pertain to projects of national interest including matters related to enactment of the Laws, land acquisition, registration of trademarks for different companies etc. Quick availability of the Gazettes enables awareness of the latest developments in a timely manner.
What is the impact of printing on the environment?
Besides substantial saving in time, e-publishing does away with the need for printing about multiple pages of such notifications every year leading to a saving of publication cost per year being incurred on paper besides power, chemicals, color, dyes etc. and as such, is a major environment-friendly initiative.
Going paperless reduces the impact on forests, decreases the amount of waste that is dumped into landfills, cuts energy use and helps lessen the impact of climate change.
According to the environmental advocacy group “The World Counts” reports discouraging statistics that one might not have considered:
- producing 1 kilo of paper requires 2-3 times its weight in trees. If everyone used 200 kilos of paper per year there would be no trees left;
- it takes 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of water to produce a single A4 sheet of paper;
- the pulp and paper industry is the single largest industrial consumer of water in Western countries; and
- 55 percent of the global paper supply comes from newly cut trees.
An alternative to paper would be digitalisation of the Government Gazettes as to entirely improve information flow. Technology is affordable now, even for the smallest enterprise, therefore, going paperless is no longer just a wish; it is a must have.
The main issue with paper documents is that they are not easy to find when you have piles of papers and the information is not immediately accessible. According to Data Scope, employees in businesses with paper-based processes spend up to 40% of their time looking for documents, and around 7% of them are lost or misfiled. This also involves a lot of time waste and processing delays.
The Revision of Laws (Amendment) Act 2022: An online version of revised & updated statutes book
It is to be noted that the Revision of Laws (Amendment) Act 2022 has been gazetted on the 6th April 2022 but has not yet come into operation. The Attorney General, Maneesh Gobin has announced that an international call for tenders has been issued for the purpose of installing an American software, which has been used for many years by the Office of the Law Revision Council of the US House of Representative States. Once posted on the Attorney General's Office portal, the revised electronic version will contain updated laws. A QR Code will also be available on each page of the legislations as well as digital signatures. “Every time an amendment is made to a law, the electronic version will be amended… The strengths of the electronic version is that the amendments to the laws will be uploaded as a new version, and not as a replacement for the old one. The features of the electronic version that include the facts and amendments will not be overwritten and hyperlinks will enable users to see the amendments and changes as they happen in time.” he explains.
The object of the Revision of Laws (Amendment) Act 2022 is to give the possibility to consult and download the laws free of charge on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, whether in Mauritius or abroad. According to this legislation, the enactments included in the electronic revised edition shall, with effect from the date on which they are published on the web portal of the Attorney-General’s Office be deemed to be the official text of the enactments so published and be taken to be the laws of Mauritius. This will undoubtedly impact the need for print versions of the Government Gazette.
This new law is likely to revolutionize the judiciary and is a commendable step for all citizens to have access to the laws. At present it can cost Rs 200,000/- to purchase a set of statutes and revised laws are already outdated as soon as there is an amendment to the law.
With the coming of this legislation, it will be possible to make the laws in force in Mauritius freely accessible. Citizens will be able to print or download the entire laws or just extracts, and thus have access to laws to know their rights and responsibilities. In this modern time, we welcome this initiative and look forward to its coming into operation.
This article was published in the Le Defi Newspaper on 04.05.2022.