Today in The House of Assembly The much awaited Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2017 was opened for debate. The Bill establishes an Independent Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson explained that The Bill would confer responsibility of the prosecution to the sole care of the DPP and give that office a degree of autonomy from the influence of the Attorney General (AG). Though the AG would still be able to give instruction to the DPP in certain circumstances, instructions must be in writing and signed.
Minister Johnson argued that the separation of these offices would reduce the frequency of nolle presequi's - a controversial order allowing the AG to stop prosecution of cases without opposition. Giving the DPP autonomy helps to free the justice process from political influence.
Leader of the Opposition Phillip "Brave" Davis pointed out that as long as the AG can give directions to the DPP on such a broad basis, not much is changed from the current system and the office is not truly independent. He urged the government narrow the scope of offenses in which the AG can intervene.
What do you think? The Organization for Responsible Governance will be submitting recommendations for amendments to the Office of the Attorney General and Members of Parliament. Read The Bill and send your feedback to: email@example.com.
The Interception of Communications Bill and the National Intelligence Agency Bill were tabled in the House of Assembly last week. The bills are new versions of laws drafted in the last administration and have received backlash from civil society groups for their controversial content and for being tabled without any prior consultation.
Public consultation is crucial to creating effective laws and policies that respond to the needs of citizens. Broadening the number of people who review a bill not only creates better laws, it reduces the cost of implementation and enforcement by getting the buy-in of the public.
In a meeting with The Organization for Responsible Governance, Our Carmicheal, The National L.E.A.D. Institute, and We March, The Attorney General and his team stated their intentions to host an open consultation process on both bills before parliamentary debate, promising an information campaign over multiple platforms and public forums on New Providence and Grand Bahama.
To view or download the bills click the icons below:
Minister of Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson tabled the Constitution Amendment Bill 2017 last week, which would establish an independent Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and allegedly free that department from the influence of the Attorney General and other cabinet positions.
A Director of Public Prosecutions that is free from political or other bias is essential to the fair and equitable carry out of justice and to the rule of law in The Bahamas. It is important that we get this bill right.
We encourage you to take a look for yourself to ensure The Bill meets the mark, gives true independence, and affords the DPP the power and tools he or she needs to carry out justice. The Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) will be consolidating and submitting recommendations for The Bill to Members of Parliament for consideration and review. Please see the Bill at the link below and send any recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please see the Bill at the link below and send any recommendations to email@example.com.
BREAKING: BPL PowerSecure Contract Terminated
Minister of Works Desmond Bannister tabled his much awaited Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) Business plan which outlined strategies to make the national energy provider more efficient and cost-effective. He announced that BPL and the Bahamian government have amicably severed their contract with PowerSecure, the Southern Company subsidiary charged with restructuring the utility provider. The Minister also stated that BPL/BEC breached public procurement protocol in several contracts over the last administration and a number of conflicts of interest are also suspected. A report on these will be tabled when the Royal Bahamas Police Force completes its investigation.
The Minister's contribution also outlined plans to reduce staff by 30%. The redundancy program will commence next month.
Other Highlights from the House:
Less than two weeks into the year thousands took to the streets with the We March Movement to protest the many broken promises of various governments over the years. Amongst the most decried topics was the call for a strong, fair Freedom of Information Act. Today the act is passed, with seven amendments suggested by civil society and the people, thanks to the voices of concerned citizens like the WeMarchers. See our gallery of the many #FacesofFOIA who dedicated their time to ensuring we all have the right to know.
For more #FacesofFOIA photos visit our Facebook Page!
Where Do We Go From Here? - Freedom of Information
We are exceedingly proud that through our collective efforts, with your help, seven of the amendments put forward by our coalition of FOIA advocates were accepted in The Freedom of Information Bill 2016 which, after months of advocacy was passed in the House of Assembly on February 8th.
Since April 2016 The Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) and our partners have brought suggestions and pressed amendments for the bill to ensure it is a strong, fair bill for the people. With help from members and supporters like you, ORG was a part of a collective effort that saw twenty-one diverse civil society groups representing more than 100,000 residents come together to act. Most importantly, over 2,000 citizens sent letters to their MPs and signed the petition on The Campaign For the Bahamas platform and thousands more raised their voices, asked questions, and stood up for our right to know.
ORG sent letters to MPs with our priority recommendations and liaised with sympathetic members of parliament. Our partner, Citizens for a Better Bahamas (CBB) created a detailed assessment document highlighting civil society’s priority recommended amendments and benchmarks in other Westminster systems. On the day of the debate, ORG, CBB, Rise Bahamas, and ReEarth continued the advocacy in parliament, distributing this assessment and lobbying with MPs on breaks. Ultimately all of our priority points were discussed by MPs from both sides of the aisle.
Partner Profile: Citizen's For a Better Bahamas
By: Kevante Cash, ORG Volunteer
If you run in advocacy and activist circles or have been following the conversation about Freedom of Information, you have probably already heard of our civil society partner Citizens for a Better Bahamas (CBB).
CBB was formed prior to the introduction of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) by a group of “concerned citizens” who firmly believed in the principles of accountability and transparency within government. These citizens insisted that these values be implemented ahead of the introduction of any new tax on Bahamians and residents.
Today, CBB’s greatest focus is The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which will allow Bahamians access to information in a timely manner and hold the government responsible for its decisions. The group was a major player in civil society’s assessment and benchmarking of the Freedom of Information Bill 2015 and the advocacy efforts which saw seven of civil society’s recommended amendments included in the final bill.
The Bahamas has come a long way since it gained its independence in 1973. It was a few years before my time, but I have a sense of how exciting that period in our history must have been for Bahamians across the length and breadth of this country. It signified a new start for this archipelagic nation. A chance to level the playing field and for opportunity, equality, economic empowerment and social justice to thrive.
Now, I must make a confession. I was one of those persons who believed that because the Bahamas gained its independence through legislation-- as opposed to “fighting” for it like many other post-colonial countries - that it wasn’t something we had earned. My own ignorance caused me to discredit the hard work and sacrifice many Bahamians made in the years leading up to that pivotal moment in our history.
There is a statement I love that says “a people that does not learn from its history, is bound to repeat it.”
In the Bahamas, we tend to downplay the role everyday Bahamians played in the fight for justice, equality, economic empowerment and fair play. Often, it seems that we lack the interest and concern to educate ourselves about our past, which is unquestionably a prerequisite for progress. In doing so, we find ourselves repeating in principle some of the same things we fought so tirelessly against not long ago.
Here at ORG and in The Campaign for The Bahamas, the word ‘governance’ gets a lot of play… it is even in our name. Responsible governance, accountable governance, transparent governance.
With the current focus on Freedom of Information legislation it’s easy to equate the push for better governance with a push for changes to the government, especially with the current lack of trust, warranted or not, of those in power. However, there is so much more to “responsible governance” than what the people in power are up to.
Government is the official body with the authority govern specific common resources and processes. An efficient, open, and accountable governing body and administration are of course a large part of the governance of a country but they are only one part. In an abstract sense, governance at a national level refers to the actions and processes by which a modern society organizes and stabilizes itself.