By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
A LOCAL advocacy group criticised the government’s “decided lack of interest” in passing and implementing a Freedom of Information Act, and is calling for greater public participation on the proposed legislation.
The Organization for Responsible Governance underscored the critical need for public education on the role of a FOIA due to the lack of meaningful engagement with civil society. The group plans to host an independent forum next week, citing that the government’s efforts have not been effective or sufficient.
In a press statement, ORG Executive Director Matthew Albury added that there was no clear evidence that the FOI Commission had benchmarked the proposed legislation against international standards.
The organisation called for an expanded public consultation programme that would allow citizens to provide meaningful input, and for the commission to directly engage local and international civil society groups.
Public consultation began last month with town hall meetings held in New Providence and Grand Bahama.
In a statement to Parliament yesterday, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald said that public consultations will be held in Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma over the next six weeks. The final town hall meeting will take place on New Providence, he said.
Mr Fitzgerald, who is responsible for the legislation, explained that notices will be published and also listed on the Ministry of Education’s website and Facebook page, and encouraged persons to review the legislation and provide feedback in person, on the website or by letter.
The ORG statement read: “ORG has observed that the meetings have not been well advertised, information on the government’s recommendations for the bill has not been made available, and, subsequently, the public has not been well engaged – the initial meeting in Nassau drew only 15 attendees and the second in Grand Bahamas had only five.
“ORG and the other civil society organisations want to help engage the public in this critical legislation,” said Lana Lee Brogdon, chair of ORG’s Public Education and Messaging Committee.
“This is too important for us to just stand by and do nothing because it will affect our children and the future of our country. We need all individuals and organisations to come out on Thursday, May 10, to the Dundas to learn more.
“We have invited the government to join us and provide their presentation and we hope they take this as seriously as we do.”
The government released a revamped draft version of the FOI legislation last year. Mr Fitzgerald has said that the Christie administration would seek to table the document once Parliament reconvened after the summer break, suggesting it would likely take place between October and November.
The ORG’s public education forum will be held at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts at 6.30pm on May 10.
According to ORG, the event has the support and participation of Citizens for a Better Bahamas, The Nassau Institute, The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, The Bahamas Bar Association, Civil Society Bahamas and We the People.