EDUCATION Minister Jerome Fitzgerald speaks in the House of Assembly.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
“CERTAIN parts” of the highly anticipated Freedom of Information Act are slated for enactment this week, according to Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jerome Fitzgerald yesterday.
Mr Fitzgerald told members of the press that he signed off on documentation that will bring the legislation into force, and allow for the appointment of an information commissioner, after weeks of speculation over whether the legislation would meet the same fate as its predecessor under the previous Free National Movement administration.
His revelation came as FOIA advocacy groups lashed out at the government over its failure to enact a viable FOIA this term, an outcome that the groups attributed to “insincerity and a failure of leadership” in a joint press statement yesterday.
Mr Fitzgerald said: “I have signed off on a paper to enact certain parts of the Freedom of Information Act. I think that comes into force this week if my memory serves me right and that will provide us and allow us the opportunity to appoint an information commissioner who will be responsible for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, which is really the first and most critical part.
“I am now discussing, with the prime minister, a Cabinet paper for the appointment of that person, that has to be done in consultation with the leader of the opposition who is Loretta Butler-Turner and we’re hopeful that that will be done over the next week or so, so that we can have that person appointed. But as I said, certain parts of the legislation which will allow for the implementation will come into force this week.”
A FOIA was passed by the Ingraham administration shortly before the 2012 general election but did not have an enforcement date. When the Progressive Liberal Party assumed office, the government said the legislation would need significant changes. In December 2016, Mr Fitzgerald tabled another version of FOI legislation.
The bill that was passed in February presented several “big changes” when compared to its predecessors, Mr Fitzgerald said.
In its statement yesterday, the coalition of civil society and private industry groups stated that the government’s neglect to enact legislation represented not only a lack of political will, but also evidenced the lack of commitment to the public’s fundamental right to know on the part of successive administrations.
The coalition urged voters to demand immediate enactment from candidates in the upcoming general elections.
The coalition’s statement read: “After disregarding the bulk of the recommendations that were offered toward ensuring that the FOIA sufficiently represented the interest of the people, the government has failed to bring the FOIA to enactment or set a date to do so.
“In the weeks prior to the announcement of the general election date 2017, our groups consistently tried to ascertain from the relevant departments, the progress and date of enactment of the FOIA. Our efforts were met with vague answers and no results.
“As the current government has had five years to draft, consult, pass and enact a viable FOIA, the prospect of a currently un-enacted FOIA until the next government takes power, signifies insincerity and a failure of leadership on their part,” the statement continued.
“Given this, any current campaign claims of support for transparency and accountability ring hollow.”
The FOIA collective includes: Citizens for a Better Bahamas, The Nassau Institute, ReEarth, The Organisation for Responsible Governance, Save the Bays, Waterkeepers Bahamas, The Bahamas Press Club, It’s Our Turn, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, Bahamas Federation of Retailers, HeadKnowles, Civil Society Bahamas, Rise Bahamas, Young Marine Explorers, We The People, BREEF, Our Carmichael, The Coalition to Save Clifton, and Citizens for Justice.