Groups Welcome Freedom Of Information Draft


Tribune Staff Reporter


TWO groups yesterday congratulated the government for releasing a draft Freedom of Information Bill this week, but urged the administration to keep politics out of the issue to ensure the integrity of the legislation.

Save The Bays CEO Vanessa Haley Benjamin applauded the government on the release of the draft bill, but said to be effective, the legislation must provide for an independent commissioner and contain “more teeth than loopholes.”

In a press release, Mrs Benjamin said releasing the long-awaited draft was a step in the right direction but the first condition of real freedom of information “is to remove it from the political arena.”

“The appointment of an independent commissioner is absolutely essential if freedom of information is to be effective,” said Mrs Benjamin. “That is the first requirement and the most basic tenet – take politics out of it. We will know that the government is serious about the public’s right to know if those charged with answering requests for information are non-political and their jobs are not tied to a given government office where their jobs can be threatened or their answers influenced.”

“Freedom of information is urgently needed. As it stands now, developments are being approved with virtually no input from residents even when those developments are going to directly affect them. That should never be the case. If freedom of information becomes part of our culture, it will mean an end to closed-door deals and the only time information is withheld will be when it could be a breach of national security.

“The time is now. Let’s get it right and it will become the legacy of this administration that will help preserve this magnificent Bahamas for future generations.”

The Bahamas Press Club also congratulated the government for bringing the FOIA “bill to light.”

In a statement, the club said the release of the draft bill proves that there is no reason an act could not be produced and passed before 2016 because all that is needed is the focused attention of a committed government.

“On the face of it, the new draft bill will seem to deepen the democracy in affording the people to freely access information from various government agencies. On the backside, however, it will appear that so much information will be exempt and not available for the public, the status quo will remain and freedom of information for the Bahamian people will still not exist,” the statement said.

“We are hopeful that the appointment of an information commissioner with the attendant resources to make the position effective, minus the usual political baggage will be the order of the day. The Press Club is also delighted to see the unlimited power of the minister corrected as that single provision made a mockery of the entire process.”

The draft Freedom of Information Bill 2015 was released on Monday and, if passed, will repeal the 2012 legislation, which was passed in early 2012 by the former administration but never enforced.

The 2015 bill, which appears to have been based on the 2012 version, removes ministerial veto power over disclosures and sets out guidelines for the appointment of an independent information commissioner. The 2015 bill also omits sections included in the 2012 act on the amendment and annotation of personal records and the declaration of adherence to the Official Secrets Act, which were identified as significant challenges to the former legislation. Other notable changes include expanded sections related to exempt records and determining public interest.


John 6 years, 6 months ago

Erry one gone quiet on this


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