Following the government’s announcement that it intends to borrow $30 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to support the rollout of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Organization for Responsible Governance Executive Director Matt Aubry yesterday questioned the need for such a large investment.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest revealed the government’s intention last week, noting that the funds will help to strengthen its digital infrastructure.
Speaking to The Nassau Guardian on the matter, Aubry said, “I’m not sure in terms of the amount and figures of the necessity of that level of investment, but I would anticipate that hopefully that would also include public education, supporting systems that not only just make sure that government is responsive, but that there is active use of it.
“Many places have passed these bills and put them in place, and if the citizenry isn’t aware of how they can use it or what they are able to achieve, it can really not achieve the objective.”
Turnquest said the loan will assist in “providing support for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, which includes: developing and implementing a master plan for the rollout of FOIA; providing technical support for the set-up and operation of the office of the information commissioner; conducting training to information managers to enhance transparency in public sector entities; and enhancing inter-institutional coordination to effectively implement FOIA provisions”.
A revamped version of the FOIA was passed under the Christie administration in February 2017.
When the act is fully in force, every Bahamian citizen, permanent resident and registered company in The Bahamas shall have a right to obtain access to a record other than an exempt record.
In April, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government expects to fully enact the FOIA within the next budget year.
The whistleblower provision of the Freedom of Information Act 2017 came into force on March 1.
Asked yesterday whether he believes the Minnis administration has the political will to see the FOIA fully enacted before the end of this term, Aubry said, “I’ve seen more indication of [political will] from this administration than the last.
“We have had ongoing discussions. They did bring in a consultant from Jamaica last spring; they did enact one more element, which was the whistleblowers’ component. So I would say that there seems to be an indication.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with the [attorney general’s] office, as well as the minister of state for legal affairs, to try and find out [what are] their timelines.
“So we’ve been continuing talking about it, and they’ve talked about looking and preparing and seeking information; so you hope that indicates that there is interest.
“… The [$30 million], though, sounds very large. I would want to know very specifically how it’s going to be utilized and ensure that some of that is allocated to working with the public to be able to make this a user-friendly system, not one that is in place to protect government but one to create access.”
Aubry urged the government to use the loan to accelerate the enforcement effort.