By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
AN outspoken lawyer has criticised the government for not yet passing the Freedom of Information Act, stating that the Christie administration has allowed the legislation to die “the natural political death of things that don’t have a priority in The Bahamas”.
Fred Smith, QC, also hit out at the government – as well as the Free National Movement – for continuing to be “hypocrites in their electioneering and campaigning, promising the holy grail of Freedom of Information legislation, accountability, transparency in government, and yet have failed to respect the citizenry and electorate of The Bahamas”.
He called on the Christie administration to move with haste in bringing the anticipated legislation into effect.
In June, State Minister for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said the implementation of Freedom of Information legislation will “not be a quick process”, adding that the government anticipates incurring “significant costs” to implement it.
While not giving a rough estimate of costs, Mr Gomez said its passing will “initiate a sea of change in attitudes and approaches of public officials to the provision of information to the public”.
He added that in order for the legislation to be successful, the management of public records needed to be addressed.
However, Mr Smith dismissed Mr Gomez’s earlier statements as being “more red tape and unnecessary road blocks” to the act being passed in Parliament.
“There are so many instances that cry out for transparency in politics in the Bahamas,” Mr Smith said during a recent interview. “It is a crying shame that both the FNM and the PLP have continued to be hypocrites in their electioneering and campaigning, promising the holy grail of Freedom of Information in legislation, accountability, transparency in government, and yet have failed to respect the citizenry and electorate of The Bahamas.
“It’s just disrespectful and obviously the politicians are holding Bahamians in contempt, for them to refuse to account to the people who elect them for what they do with our money, for the decisions they make about our future, and for the governance and the body politic of the Bahamas.”
He added: “I ask, what is the big secret (for example) at Nygard Cay, Blackbeard’s Cay, the new cruise ship terminal for Carnival out of East Grand Bahama?
“There are so many things that are happening in our Bahamas and the Bahamian people are kept absolutely in the dark until some crisis develops, when suddenly the politician wants to all of a sudden garner support from some part of the electorate and then wants to make only then a partial disclosure.”
A Freedom of Information Act was passed in early 2012 by the former Ingraham administration, months before the last general election.
However, there was no date for enactment.
When the PLP assumed office that year, it said the legislation needed significant tweaking before it could be enforced.
In May, the government released a draft of a revamped version of the legislation, however it is unclear when the Bill will be brought to Parliament for debate.
Mr Smith said the government’s reason for holding off on passing the legislation is a “political mentality of being secretive”.
“So the question of cost, the question of setting up administration for it, the question of creating a freedom of information commissioner, all of these things are more red tape, unnecessary road blocks, because right now if the government wanted to be accountable to the public at every stage, documentation can be made available,” he said.
“There’s no reason why it can’t be a ‘government in the sunshine’ now.”