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.
On November 25th, several thousand determined Bahamians came together to stand up for their right to be heard and for the future of the country. The Black Friday march attracted an estimated 3,000 demonstrators who marched from Arawak Cay and blocked Rawson Square in a bid to have their issues heard.
In the square, prominently featured next to The Parliamentary Registry’s tent for voter registration and the #WeMarch movement’s focus group sign up station, The Campaign for The Bahamas team stood ready at their booth with tablets and clipboards in hand.
Shortly after The Black Friday March was announced The Campaign for the Bahamas issued a statement supporting the initiative as an exercise in nation building with the potential to galvanize the people and call citizens to a greater level of participation for better governance for all. The March’s demand for the quick passage of a strong, fair Freedom of Information Act especially resonated with our group and we threw our weight behind it to drive that cause.
At the March, The Campaign kept a booth in Rawson Square where ORG team members and volunteers explained the FOIA issue to participants and solicited signatures for the Campaign for the Bahamas’ FOIA Petition and the FOIA Advocacy Letter to the MPs. Our dedicated staff and volunteers did an incredible job roaming the crowds with clip boards, gathering nearly 1500 signatures for the cause!
The Campaign for the Bahamas is a rallying cry to fight for a positive and sustainable future for our country. Our mission is to unite Bahamians through positive change and the only way for that change to happen is if we stand together and ensure our collective voices are heard.
The Campaign for the Bahamas commends our partner OurCarmicheal in the nation-building work they are doing through their BlackOut March scheduled on Friday November 25th, 2016. Peaceful demonstrations are democracy at work, and the engagement of diverse voices from all sectors – the citizenship, civil society, private and public sector – is crucial to creating a free democracy that upholds the rights and happiness of all.
If you live in the Carmichael neighborhood, some of the first faces you would have seen after Hurricane Matthew were those of the Our Carmichael team. The group of volunteers provided how-to videos on how to board up before the storm, worked with Omni Cash to assist residents with rebuilding funds, cleared debris from the roads and distributed 4,000 bags of ice to residents without power. Mostly comprised of residents from in and around the neighborhood the quick and passionate response reflects the groups mandate to be the change they want to see in their home base.
Transparency must be reinforced with accountability. Formal checks and balances within government are needed to battle corruption and malfeasance. All stakeholders in The Bahamas- the people, interest groups, civil society, the courts, the press, and opposition parties must insist that those who govern follow legitimate mandates and explain their actions.
It is easy to see that one of The Bahamas leading concerns facing our country is Transparency in government. Why is the deal with the Chinese Export Import Bank over Baha Mar sealed? What is hidden in the BTC majority share buyback? Where are the funds from Junkanoo Carnival and how are they being use?
Responsible, open and accountable governance is critical for societies to create opportunity and socioeconomic stability for their citizens. Is the Bahamas hitting the mark? The core problems facing the Bahamas - crime, poor education, unemployment, and a flagging economy amongst others - stem from a systemic break down in leadership and governance in the country.