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Civil society groups urge FOIA enactment

A group of civil society organizations said that the delay of the full enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) represents a breach in Bahamian citizens’ fundamental rights.

In a joint statement, Civil Society Bahamas, The Nassau Institute, the Organization for Responsible Governance, reEarth, Rise Bahamas, Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas urged the government to act on the matter with urgency and establish a concrete timeline for enactment.

“Above all, we continue to stress the need for urgency,” the group said.

“We understand that implementing FOIA is an extended, involved and technical process, making it all the more necessary to take these essential first steps of appointing an independent and qualified information commission and providing the necessary training to all public authorities as soon as possible.

“There are examples of Caribbean countries which passed FOI laws as many as 13 years before fully enacting them.

“We in civil society will do all within our power to ensure that The Bahamas is not among those examples.

“We call on the government to match this commitment by acting swiftly.

“A citizen’s right to information empowers them to enact change and we will continue to press for a strong, fair FOIA.

“The longer we wait, the longer we are in breach of our citizens’ fundamental human rights.”

The statement comes after Attorney General Carl Bethel said last week that the government is hoping to have full enactment of FOIA by this time next year, and that it is aiming to have an information officer in place by the end of this year.

However, Bethel cautioned against holding the government to those dates, raising concern among the civil society organizations.

“We…have taken note of the recent comments made by Attorney General Carl Bethel regarding the anticipated full enactment of FOIA,” the group’s statement said.

It added, “We are cautiously optimistic that this new potential target date implies renewed and increased efforts on the part of the government.

“Given that it was announced last year at the government’s FOIA training session that full enactment was to occur before the end of the 2018-2019 budget cycle, we feel that this is a victory deferred. 

“The government’s hesitance to fully commit to the May 2020 target also concerns our coalition.”

The organizations also commended the government for some steps it has already taken.

“We recognize the progress that the government has made over the past two years; bringing into force the whistleblower provision of the act; inviting Jamaican consultant Damian Cox to train stakeholders in April of 2018 and securing an IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) loan to ensure technical training and infrastructure to support rollout,” the group said.

It added, “We do wish to commend and support the attorney general’s aspiration to have the information commissioner in place before the end of 2019.

“Not only is a skilled and well-funded Office of the Information Commissioner imperative to the rollout of FOIA, the leadership of an independent information commissioner is crucial to the fair handling of information requests and the success of freedom of information in the long term.

“Our coalition reiterates the importance of a selection process that ensures the independence and impartiality of the information commissioner and a transparent process that would gain the wider trust of the public at large.

“We hope to soon hear more details about the government’s proposed selection process for this decision.”

Rachel Knowles

Staff Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues.
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish
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