||Last Updated: May 3, 2021 - 10:57:24 AM
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Sen. the Hon. Carl Bethel released a statement on the Freedom of Information Act, May 2, 2021 and introduced the first Freedom of Information Commissioner and Deputy Freedom of Information Commissioner in the persons of Retired Supreme Court Justice Keith Thompson and Mr. Shane Miller, now retired Assistant Director of Legal Affairs (ADLA), respectively. Standing from left: Freedom of Information Commissioner, Retired Supreme Court Justice, Keith Thompson; the AG; Mr. Miller and Permanent Secretary in the AG’s Office and the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Cecilia Strachan. (BIS Photos/Ulric Woodside)
Freedom of information or the right to access information is considered to be a cornerstone of modern democracy.
It is of note that access to information is an important condition for all democratic societies; and that the right of access to information is based on the principle of transparency in governance.
Persons may recall that the Freedom of Information Act 2012 was passed just prior to the General Elections of 2012, but was not brought into effect. At that time, some persons expressed concern about the 2012 Act and in 2014 the then Government formed a Committee, under the auspices of the then Minister of Education, the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald, who gave the Committee the mandate to examine the 2012 Act with a view to updating it.
The Committee consisted of Officers from the Attorney-General’s Office, the Ministry of Education, the Department of Archives and a Professor from the University of The Bahamas L.L.B. Programme, who represented Civil Society.
After initial benchmarking the Committee recommended that due to the extensive changes which needed to be made to the 2012 Act, a new Act should be drafted.
This revised Act was enacted on 31st March, 2017.
Since that time the present government brought the whistleblowers protection provisions into force in December, 2017. Subsequently, the government arranged, through an IDB Facility, for a consultancy which led to several days of face to face training of scores of public servants during the year 2018 conducted by Damian Cox, the Director of Access to Information of Jamaica.
Throughout 2019 and 2020 my Ministry identified firstly the former EDLS Library on Thompson Boulevard as the site to house the new Information Commission, and when, based on the architectural floor plans, it became clear that the proposed building was too small, we were able to shift our focus to developing the Yandi Building (formerly occupied by the Case Management Unit of the ODPP), which had re-located in mid-2020. This Building on Thompson Boulevard, is a stone’s throw away from the former EDLS Library, which will now become the dedicated Training Centre for the Freedom of Information Commission.
Throughout this time efforts were made to identify the first Information Commissioner. Finally, Cabinet agreed upon a person.
It is, therefore, my distinct privilege and pleasure to announce the imminent appointments of the first Freedom of Information Commissioner and Deputy Freedom of Information Commissioner in the persons of Retired Supreme Court Justice Keith Thompson and Mr. Shane Miller, now retired Assistant Director of Legal Affairs (ADLA), respectively. Ret. Justice Thompson will receive his Instrument of Appointment from the Governor-General in a ceremony at Government House tomorrow morning and both Officers will assume duty on Monday, 4th May, 2021.
The Act provides for the appointment of a person whose independence and sterling character are crucial to the working of new legal regime. This certainly epitomizes our new Commissioner. Justice Thompson has had a long and distinguished life of public service. Before entering the Legal Profession he served as a teacher and Dean of Students at Aquinas College. Upon being called to The Bahamas Bar he served at various law firms and as general Legal Counsel to the Sunshine Group of Companies extensively in the areas of conveyancing, mortgages, probate matters, litigation and various commercial transactions.
He continued in education by serving as a law lecturer at the University of The Bahamas and the University of the West Indies Open Campus lecturing in Employment Law, Business Law and Law for HR Managers.
He served as Vice President of the Industrial Tribunal before being appointed as Justice of the Supreme Court of The Bahamas.
Justice Thompson is, or has been, active in many civic organizations including the Kiwanis Club. He was also at one time a Police Reservist. An avid musician he has been involved in music and various choirs and bands since High School.
The Deputy Information Commissioner is Mr. Shane Miller, is a retired Public Officer of impeccable character, who has completed 30 years of stellar public service. Mr. Miller joined the Public Service in 1991 in the Registrar General’s Department as Assistant Registrar General where he worked in all aspects of that Department. During this tenure he helped to implement the first computerization project at RGD.
Having risen to the position of Deputy Registrar General, Mr. Miller then transferred to the Office of the Attorney-General where he was assigned to the civil chambers section dealing with copyright and Intellectual Property, trade and land law matters, contracts and other issues. He also dealt with the Aviation sector involving Air Services Agreements and negotiations for The Bahamas Air Space.
Mr. Miller has also served on two separate occasions as the Attorney-General’s representative on The Bahamas Bar Council. He is very technically proficient in Information Technology. He also has an interest in music and is involved in music writing and production.
Thus both individuals have an extensive background in law, the Public Service and administration and are eminently suited and qualified and will bring the benefit of their experiences to the forefront in this new exciting venture.
The FOI office will be located on the top floor of the Yandi Building, University Drive. It is also planned to convert the former Eugene Dupuch Law Library building as a Training Centre for the FOI office. The public is asked to note that although the office will be officially opened tomorrow, it will not be immediately providing service to the public. For the next three-six months the team will be planning and strategizing for the implementation and roll out of the FOI Act.
To that end, through the auspices of the IDB and the Department of Transformation and Digitization, the Government will be hiring a Consultant for a ninety day contract, who will provide the requisite technical advice to the Information Commissioner on best practices in freedom and access to information. As this is a completely new venture for The Bahamas, we want to ensure that it is done properly.
Advertisements for a Consultant with the requisite expertise were posted both locally and internationally over the past five (5) weeks. I am advised that there were ten (10) applications. Commencing this week those applications will be reviewed with the goal of having the Consultant hired by 1st July, 2021. The Consultant will among other duties:
i) review and provide recommendations for upgrading the current legislative framework;
ii) supply recommendations on a road map, strategy and process for the successful implementation of FOI in The Bahamas;
iii) advise on staffing, both in approximate numbers and skill sets needed;
iv) give technical guidance and input into the preparation of the content for handbooks and other knowledge products.
I must publicly express my gratitude to the IDB and DTAD who are providing the resources for the Consultant, as well as, the infrastructural equipment needed for the establishment of the office.
This is an historic day in the life of the people and Government of The Bahamas of which I am delighted to be a part. We are excited about the prospects for the FOI office and the democratic process which it represents. This FNM Government campaigned on a promise of accountability and transparency and we are committed to fulfilling that promise.
May 2, 2021
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