Civil society urges govt. to pick up pace with FOIA

Civil society urges govt. to pick up pace with FOIA
Anthony Hamilton, Civil Society Bahamas president.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis advised the government is moving to further enact the Freedom of Information Act, civil society organizations yesterday urged legislators to pick up the pace to bring the act fully into effect.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis advised on Wednesday that he is in the process of reviewing the credentials of possible candidates for an information commissioner and is hoping to move forward in appointing “very soon”.

He was responding to calls from environmentalists and stakeholders to release all documents related to projects involving the country’s natural resources.

“We’re not in the business of hiding anything,” Minnis said.

“We are very transparent.”

He added: “Be assured that we will be moving with the appointment of an information commissioner, but we want to make certain that you appoint somebody who could do the job, not just a body.”

In an interview with Eyewitness News, Civil Society Bahamas President Dr Anthony Hamilton acknowledged the appointment of an information commissioner is critical, but the government must move faster.

“We wanted it yesterday and given the tenure that is left [of this administration], it is possible for it to be done,” Hamilton said.

“Now the willingness for this to be done, even as the prime minister is referencing now that he is reviewing applications, I would hope that that would come in short order.

“It is something that is critically vital to the good success of nation…It has grave benefits for the nation to have access to information so that we can make proper decisions scientifically.”

Hamilton said the government ought to consider the appointment for an Ombudsman.

He said the organization is in continuous contact with the Office of the Attorney General over several initiatives and has sought to establish an advisory board that will ensure stakeholders continue to hold a place at the table over matters to determine proactive policies.

In a separate interview, Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) Executive Director Matthew Aubrey said the organization is “encouraged” to hear of any movement on the FOIA enactment.

“Securing an information commissioner is a key step to establishing a system for citizens to accessing government information as is now their legal right,” Aubrey told Eyewitness News.

“However, we hope to see more movement in the short term to bring the act into effect, including setting up accessible user-friendly systems, establishing measures to determine the public interest and providing training on how to use a FOIA for both government and the public.”

Matt Aubry, Organization for Responsible Governance’s (FILE PHOTO)

Aubrey insisted that the act would be very beneficial in The Bahamas given the current pandemic and the need to recover and rebuild post-COVID

“An FOIA can promote easier information access; bring greater government efficiency and responsiveness; encourage public participation in governance; discourage corruption, increase transparency and more competitive government contracting, and ultimately build public confidence in government decision making and spending,” he said.

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.

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.