By THE ORGANIZATION OF RESPONSIBLE GOVERNANCE
THE Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG), a non-profit, non-partisan foundation that advocates for open, accountable and responsible governance, in tandem with a coalition of other civil society and private industry groups, is continuing to urge the swift passage of a “true” Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as the date for the final version of the bill to be introduced to Parliament nears.
The Government announced last month that a final version of the long-anticipated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2015 will be tabled in Parliament before the end of this month. With October upon us, ORG is reiterating the urgency of passing a strong, fair FOIA to the Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jerome Fitzgerald, Members of Parliament and the public.
Aiming to ensure the Government includes commonly agreed recommendations proposed by a coalition of groups to strengthen the Act, ORG and 17 other groups have mobilised to engage and educate the public about the importance of the legislation and its timely passage. These groups are primarily concerned that the final version of the FOIA “gives power to the people” and “keeps the Government honest”.
The amendments put forth in their collective recommendations would increase the scope of government entities subject to FOIA, clarify what information is eligible for discretionary exemption, denial, or referral, give the Freedom of Information Unit and Information Commissioner more autonomy and keep it beyond the reach of potential government interference, and provide better protection for people who step forward with information on wrongdoing within government.
The group believes the passage of a strong FOIA is a top priority for the Bahamas, as it would allow Bahamians to get answers and force action on pressing issues such as Carnival spending, the conditions of the recent government brokered deal with the Chinese Export-Import Bank over Baha Mar, and the increasingly murky details of Bank of the Bahamas.
“It’s the people’s money and the people’s decisions,” said Matt Aubry, Executive Director of ORG. “It is the people’s right to have access to information surrounding decisions and issues such as Baha Mar and BOB that affect everyone who lives and works in the Bahamas. The FOIA would allow that access and provide avenues to hold responsible parties accountable.”
The groups have launched a joint public education campaign featuring an online petition to endorse passage of the bill with suggested recommendations from the groups.
They have since expanded campaign efforts with appearances on radio and television as well as educational information in print and social media.
The groups are asking the public to reach out to MPs and will be launching a letter writing campaign this week where citizens can urge their representatives to adopt the recommendations and pass the Bill.
The group sent a letter to Mr Fitzgerald, requesting a meeting to discuss the Bill, its contents and its tabling. Although Mr Fitzgerald, who has oversight of the legislation, said the Bill is expected to be tabled before Parliament, there has been no information as to which recommendations have been included in the report or what basis Cabinet would use for review. Although the letter was sent over two weeks ago, no response has been received yet from the Ministry.
“ORG alone can’t move mountains; we need the people to influence government. So we are inviting Bahamians to call on their representatives in Parliament to ensure that a “true” Freedom of Information Act is passed. A strong and fair Freedom of Information Act will benefit us all - citizens and residents, private businesses, civil society organisations, industry associations, media outlets, unions and, ultimately, government,” said Mr Aubry.
ORG, a membership-based, non-profit foundation founded in 2015, is comprised of Bahamian citizens, residents, student and youth organisations, civic groups, community leaders, businesses, associations and civil society.
This diverse and inclusive group focuses on initiating a national dialogue on core socioeconomic and geopolitical concerns affecting the Bahamas, including open and accountable government, fiscal, educational, and economic reforms and the equitable enforcement of the rule of law.
For more information, go to www.orgbahamas.com, follow on Facebook at ORG Bahamas Foundation. Sign the petition at www.campaign242.org/foia_bahamas.