Civil Society calls attention to urgency of FOIA

Govt. has foreshadowed full implementation by May 2020

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Civil Society Bahamas, along with seven other civil society organizations, yesterday called on the government to prioritize the full enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with a “sense of urgency” in order to deliver “this fundamental right to the people of The Bahamas”.

“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 have taken note of the recent comments made by Attorney General Carl Bethel regarding the anticipated full enactment of FOIA,” read the joint statement.

“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.”

Speaking to the media outside of the Churchill Building last Tuesday, Bethel advised that the FOIA could be fully enacted by May 2020.

A Freedom of Information Bill was passed under the last Ingraham administration but was never brought into force.

Months ahead of the 2017 general election, the Christie administration passed a revised version of the FOIA.

The whistleblower provision of the act was implemented on March 1.

According to the legislation, no individual may be subject to any legal, administrative of employment related sanction “regardless of any breach of a legal or employment-related obligation”, for releasing information of wrongdoing or that which poses a serious threat to health, safety or environment “as long as he has acted in good faith and in the reasonable belief that the information was substantially true…”.

In the joint statement, the civil society organizations said after fervent and continuous advocation of the full enactment of the legislation, it appreciates the government referencing a potential full implementation date and recognized the steps toward that goal to date.

However, the groups said the government’s apparent hesitance to fully commit to the date is cause for concern.

“As of yet, there has been no public acknowledgement of an outline or plan towards full enactment,” read the statement.

“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.”

Last week, Bethel said the government was actively seeking someone to fill the role of information commissioner by the end of this year.

The SCOs welcomed the appointment of an information commissioner before the end of the year, but stressed the need for a sense of urgency.

According to the attorney general, the full enactment of the legislation has taken as long as it was due to the need for extensive training within government departments and agencies.

The act seeks to grant the citizenry a general right of access to records held by the government, subject to certain exemptions, including sensitive security, governmental and commercial information.

The legislation 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 would serve for a period of five years.

He or she may be granted an extension for another five years, according to the act.

As part of the legislation, each public authority will be required to appoint an ‘information manager’ who shall be responsible for receiving requests for records and assisting individuals seeking access to records, among other duties related to the public disclosure.

The statement was endorsed by The Nassau Institute, The Organization for Responsible Governance, reEarth, Rise Bahamas, Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas.