Commissioner ‘a major step forward’


Matt Aubry, executive director of the Organization for Responsible Governance. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff


Tribune Staff Reporter


THE Organization for Responsible Governance has described the appointments of the nation’s first freedom of information commissioner and deputy commissioner as a “major step forward” but noted there is still much more work to be done.

Matt Aubry, executive director for ORG spoke after government officials on Sunday named retired Supreme Court Justice Keith Thompson as the first Freedom of Information Commissioner.

Shane Miller, former Assistant Director of Legal Affairs (ADLA), has been appointed his deputy.

Mr Aubry, who has long called for full enactment of FOIA, hailed the move when he spoke to The Tribune yesterday, adding the appointments looked “very solid” in his opinion.

However, the local activist said there is still much work to be done in helping to advance the legislation and also informing the Bahamian populace on what this means for the country and how they can benefit from it.

As a result, Mr Aubry said there is a need for the country to launch a comprehensive educational campaign, which will allow for a “stronger democracy”. He added that ORG will be hosting several virtual education sessions in the future to facilitate this process.

“The selection of the information commissioner is a huge step forward and we’re very excited for the movement,” the ORG executive director said in an interview with The Tribune yesterday.

“But there’s still a lot more to come and things that need to happen and it’s not just on the government’s side. So, the education of a community about how to utilize a freedom of information, I think is still very important.”

He added: “(I think) it’s important to understand its potential and also, its limitations. It doesn’t mean that every bit of information is available and to many folks’ concerns, it doesn’t mean that personal information is available so better understanding of what those parameters are will make this better.”

“So, (while) it really does open the door for a much broader dialogue between citizens and the government, we still feel as though there is going to be need to focus on helping both government and citizenry and private sector to use this legislation effectively and monitoring its use.”

“In the near future, we’re going to be doing some virtual educational sessions on freedom of information and how best to utilise it and how to familiarise yourself on what the process will be. I think that still requires a little bit of information from the commissioner and the assistant commissioner on what their setting up so, that will probably be timed on when we get more information on their next steps for their office.”

The previous Ingraham administration passed a FOIA shortly before the 2012 general election, however there was no date for enactment.

The last Christie administration then overhauled the legislation and conducted an extensive public consultation process. The Christie administration passed a FOIA in Parliament in February 2018.

However, aside from the whistleblower’s protection, only part one and sections of part five and eight of the legislation have been enacted, allowing for the appointment of an information commissioner and repealing the 2012 FOIA.

Yesterday, Mr Aubry said it was important that the FOIA become fully implemented, noting the many economic and social benefits it would create for the country.

One positive feature, he added, is the FOIA’s ability to help to restore citizens’ trust in government.

“One of the major steps forward what I think is important to point out from freedom of information is that they help to build up public trust in governance. There may be projects or programmes that may be effective in government but because of the mistrust that has grown, there’s scepticism,” Mr Aubry told The Tribune.

“So, this can open doors for building a greater level of trust and then get support behind programmes that are actually working for the citizens’ benefit. Similarly, it allows us to have a comfort that programmes or monies that are being spent in inappropriate ways have a greater likelihood of being identified.”

“Our auditor general, I think, is doing a great job at looking at government and providing a very fair assessment but this also allows for another resource that isn’t dependent upon government to present information so if there is something that you’re looking for, this is a tool in the hands of the citizens.”

Mr Aubry said the legislation will also allow Bahamians to be better informed about environmental, health, or other social issues.

The FOI office, which is housed on the top floor of the Yandi Building, University Drive, opened yesterday.

However, the office will not immediately be providing services to the public as the team “will be planning and strategizing for the implementation and rollout of FOIA” for the next three to six months.

“ I think it’s important that there is a level of understanding that this logistically has to be set up right in order to be effective,” Mr Aubry added.

“What we don’t want is something that’s on the books that doesn’t really achieve the intent of the legislation which is to have more access to information and for citizens to feel that they have a better place in governance and so I think it’s going to be real important that we all educate ourselves and that we keep a monitoring and paying attention to government.”


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