Letters to the Editor: The importance of independence in government

Letters to the Editor: The importance of independence in government

Dear Editor, 

The Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) writes to highlight the vital importance of independence in governance structures, particularly as it pertains to the upcoming debate on the Ombudsman legislation in the Senate. 

As an advocacy group committed to fostering transparency, accountability, and good governance in The Bahamas, ORG firmly believes that independent oversight bodies play a crucial role in ensuring that government actions are transparent, fair, and accountable to the public they serve. 

The establishment of an Office of the Ombudsman presents an opportunity for The Bahamas to strengthen its governance framework by providing citizens with a mechanism to address grievances related to maladministration in government services. However, it is essential to ensure that the Ombudsman operates independently from political interference to fulfill its mandate effectively. 

One potential challenge to the independence of the Ombudsman role is the capacity for the Attorney General to limit or stop the Ombudsman’s actions based on their opinion as indicated in section 8 clause 3, which states that: “The Attorney-General may by notice to the Ombudsman exclude the exercise of the powers of the Ombudsman in whole or in part to any, specific complaint being investigated by the Ombudsman if in his opinion the application of subsection (1) might be prejudicial to the public interest.” This clause introduces the risk of political interests influencing the Ombudsman’s decisions, undermining its effectiveness as a neutral arbiter. 

As a society, we need to prioritize the establishment of independent structures like the Ombudsman’s office to promote accountability and transparency in government operations. The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) serves as a positive example of an independent regulatory body that operates autonomously from political influence, ensuring fair and equitable treatment in the telecommunications and utilities sectors. 

While there has been statutory establishment of independent oversight in various sectors, such as the Freedom of Information Unit, the Police Inspectorate, the Fiscal Responsibility Council, and the Integrity Commission, as promised by both this government and the last, there is a critical need for greater intention and priority on providing these bodies with the resources and autonomy necessary to carry out their mandates effectively.

A nation thrives when citizens play an informed and active role and these structures provide oversight and access to information pertaining to government decision-making and spending. This participation drives transparency, accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness in government. By supporting initiatives that promote transparency and accountability, Bahamians can contribute to building a stronger, more resilient democracy in The Bahamas. 

We urge citizens to join us in advocating for the establishment of robust, independent governance structures that uphold the principles of transparency and accountability. If you share our commitment to promoting good governance in The Bahamas, we invite you to reach out to ORG to learn more about how you can get informed and get involved. Together, we can work towards building a brighter and more sustainable future for our nation. 

Written by: Matt Aubry, ORG Executive Director