CSOs Response to AG's Comments on FOIA

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May 14, 2019

We, as a coalition of civil society organizations which have fervently and continuously advocated for the implementation of a strong, fair Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) have taken note of the recent comments made by Attorney General Carl Bethel regarding the anticipated full enactment of FOIA. We appreciate the value of Government referencing a possible target date of May 2020. We believe that as a matter of Public Policy, FOIA must receive a higher level of priority in order to deliver this fundamental right to the people of The Bahamas.

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 loan to ensure technical training and infrastructure to support rollout. 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. Advisors such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization for American States agree that it is a critical early step to create an implementation plan with timelines for a gradual implementation. As of yet, there has been no public acknowledgement of an outline or plan towards full enactment. To this end, we urge the government to demonstrate its commitment to the rights of the people they serve and offer a more concrete sketch of the steps and timelines for the implementation of FOIA.

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.

Above all, we continue to stress the need for urgency. 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 thirteen 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.

News date : 05/14/2019    Category : Press Releases

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