$1m budget for Freedom of Information

ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel.

ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel.


Tribune Staff Reporter


THE government has allocated just over $1m to assist in defraying the cost of bringing the Freedom of Information Act into effect, Attorney General Carl Bethel announced yesterday.

The funds were presented as a budgetary line item in a list of allocations for the Office of the Attorney General & Ministry of Legal Affairs, as a part of the 2018-2019 budget.

In his announcement yesterday, Senator Bethel said despite the reduction of more than $350,000 in the allocation for permanent and pensionable salaries; and another $300,000 for contract workers, reflecting a more than $600,000 drop in the total allocation for personal emoluments and salaries; his office received a "slight increase" in other contractual services, particularly development contracts.

Among those other contractual services, Mr Bethel said just over $1m is earmarked for widespread training exercises, the appointment of a national information commissioner and the outfitting and staffing of that office - all associated with the continued implementation of FOIA.

Additionally, Mr Bethel indicated that $100,000 has also been allocated for cellular liberalisation, a process he said would include the public sale of the more than $70m worth of Aliv shares which were placed in a holding company by the former Christie administration.

"The former government's intention was to offer their shares in Aliv to institutional investors such as cooperative credit unions, asset and investment managers and pension funds. "However, it has always been a cardinal principle of the Free National Movement that shares in privatised entities should always be offered firstly to ordinary Bahamians."

Mr Bethel said the Minnis administration intends to offer shares to the public, with the allocated sum of $100,000 being used as a "carrying cost" for the government's involvement in the process.

Further to this, budget line items also revealed by Mr Bethel included the reduction of allocations to the Eugene Dupuch Law School to $500,000.

In fullness, Mr Bethel said, the Ministry of Finance has also indicated plans to cut that figure further, if the need presents itself. Moreover, he explained that the ministry expressed concerns about certain matters related to the operations of the school, matters related to its structure and functions of the institution.

"They are not personal matters," he said. "We have been asking ourselves whether it might not be more cost-effective, and also more efficient, for the Eugene Dupuch Law School to become a school of law attached to the University of the Bahamas offering post graduate studies to students that qualify."

Mr Bethel said discussions are underway to make this a reality.

He added: "I am however very happy to report that the council of legal education has agreed that going forward all students graduating from the University of the Bahamas with a law degree from that institution, will automatically be granted admission to the Eugene Dupuch Law School. No longer will Bahamian law graduates from UB need to sit a qualifying exam to enter the Eugene Dupuch Law School."

Mr Bethel also revealed that, due to the budgetary period, the government was unable to change the arrangements related to the newly appointed Independent Office of Public Prosecutions.

He said as of next year, the 2019-2020 budget period, the Independent Office of Public Prosecution will have a separate head, which will specify the details and monetary allocations for that office.

Additionally, Mr Bethel announced the appointment of former Court of Appeal President Dame Anita Allen to the post of law reform commissioner.

Addressing the government's overall budget, Mr Bethel yesterday said the common practice of borrowing with a view to only service the interest on loans by former administrations has put the current government in a bind in which it has to make countless tough choices.

"The chickens have come home to roost," he said. "The old model of what is called deficit financing has reached the point of no return. It must be addressed for the good and the welfare of every Bahamian."

Mr Bethel added: "The debt burden is entirely unsustainable. Our decision on (value added tax) was not made blindly or without any idea of what we seek to achieve. It is a bitter pill; but a bitter pill that we must all inwardly digest."

The Senate will continue its debate on the 2018-2019 budget today.


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