PM: FOIA coming very soon

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will be fully implemented “very soon”.

“That’s an ongoing process,” said Minnis who spoke to reporters on Friday.

“We should, hopefully very soon. I don’t want to give a date because you will hold me to that. Hopefully very soon, [we’ll appoint the information] commissioner. We’re looking for individuals to fit that role. So, we’ll get the commissioner first but it’s an ongoing process.

“It’s not something that’s just going to happen like that overnight and you’ll have access to this and that. There are a lot of agencies and different areas that have to be put in place.”

On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest revealed that the government intends to borrow $30 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to strengthen its digital infrastructure and support the roll out of the FOIA.

He 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”.

In April, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government expects to fully enact the FOIA within the next budget year.

A revamped version of the FOIA was passed under the Christie administration in February 2017.

The objects of the act are to reinforce and give further effect to certain fundamental principles underlying the system of constitutional democracy, namely government accountability, transparency and public participation in national decision-making.

The act seeks to do this by granting the public a general right of access to records held by a public authority, subject to exemptions which balance that right against the public interest in exempting from disclosure governmental or commercial information.

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.

The law provides for the governor general, upon the recommendation of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition, to appoint an information commissioner.

The commissioner shall be appointed for a period of five years and may get an extension for another five years.

The whistleblower provision of the Freedom of Information Act 2017 came into force on March 1.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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