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News : Local Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

Civil Society Coalition Encourage Bahamians to Stay Informed and Involved
By Organization of Responsible Governance
Feb 8, 2017 - 2:49:18 PM

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Nassau, New Providence - The group of 21 civil society and private industry organizations at the forefront of Freedom of Information advocacy have expressed that that they are encouraged by the participation of the people and the achievements of their efforts in the development of The Freedom of Information Bill. While pledging to continue advocacy for a strong, fair FOIA The groups urge all concerned to stay informed and stay involved.

The groups, who collectively represent over 100,000 residents, joined forces in 2016 to develop a list of over 30 recommendations for the improvement of the draft bill, of which seven were incorporated into the current draft. Representatives of the groups claimed that the greatest triumph was the level of civic participation the initiative inspired.

The groups advocacy methods gained attention in and out of The House of Assembly. In September 2016 the groups launched a petition encouraging members of parliament to urge the inclusion of civil society’s recommendation for the bill. In October, the groups built upon this with an online tool which allowed advocates and concerned citizens to send form letters directly to their representatives’ emails, requesting they read the recommendations. Through engagement at public and educational events, the groups were able to get over 2,000 letters sent to MPs from interested constituents.

“All that we have achieved in the development of a bill that we can all be proud of is a testament to what can be accomplished when all sectors of society come together for the good of the Nation,” said Matt Aubry (seen above), Executive Director of The Organization for Responsible Governance.

“We are exceedingly proud that through our collective efforts seven of the amendments put forward by our coalition of FOIA advocates were accepted, and even more of our points were discussed on the floor of The House. However, most important is that twenty-one diverse civil society groups came together to act, over 2,000 citizens sent letters to their MPs, and thousands more raised their voices, signed the petition, asked questions, and stood up for our right to know.”

The most recent version of the FOI Bill did not include four of the coalitions priority recommendations however. In the interest of the bill being strong, and fair the group pledges to continue to advocate for:

1) The Information Commissioner to be selected through an independent committee to avoid political influence or bias.

2) The definition of “Public Authorities” which are subject to the Bill to be expanded to include all bodies “owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government from public funds” such as the BEST Commission.

3) Wait time for responses and the 30-year period sunset period be shortened.

4) Opinions, advice or recommendations that Ministers of Cabinet or committees therein use to make decisions to be subject to disclosure.

“These primary recommendations that were submitted are based on international best standards and truly represent the best for all Bahamians, said LeMarque Campbell of Citizen’s for a Better Bahamas. “CSOs must continue to do their part in educating the public on The Freedom of Information Act in The Bahamas. The continued delay in enacting a strong Freedom of Information Act is a continued delay in granting a fundamental human right to all Bahamians.”

However, praising the bill as much improved over previous versions, the group thanked the MPs involved stating that a strong, fair Freedom of Information is the first step shifting governance in the Bahamas.

“Giving citizens their right to information will help to shift the process of governing from a one-way street to a dialogue,” said Mr. Aubry. “This began before the debate of the bill with the FOIA Commission members and many MPs taking the time to listen to constituents concerns and evaluate the bills with the good of the people in mind. The latest draft of the bill is a huge improvement on the 2015 bill and leaps and bounds ahead of the 2012 bill. We will continue to press for the best version of the bill/act as it is debated in senate. We encourage all supporters and citizens to stay informed and stay involved. It is through this citizen action that we will secure a better future for The Bahamas.”

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