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.
All that we have achieved in the development of this bill is a testament to what can be accomplished when all sectors of society, private and public, civil society and government, politicians and the people, come together for the good of the Nation.
However, our work is not done. Many of civil society’s recommendations were not included in the bill, notably four priority amendments: the recommendation to make the Information Commissioner an independently selected rather than politically appointed position; the request to expand the definition of “public authorities” to include entities that use significant public funds or perform services on behalf of government; the recommendation to reduce the turnaround time on requests and the term limits for classified information; and the request to include information leading to cabinet and cabinet committee decisions.
With the bill passed in The House, stronger than it was but still not where it needs to be, the question becomes how do we move forward. The FOI Bill 2016’s next step is to be debated in The Senate, where there is an opportunity for it to be sent back to The House with recommendations for amendment.
ORG, along with our partner groups and community members, has already begun meeting with Senators to educate them on the strengths and weaknesses of the FOI Bill 2016 and to explain the merits of our recommended changes and their implications for the empowerment of the of the people. Our hope and our goal is to influence a quorum of senators to have the bill sent back to The House with amendments for a second round of debate.
Once the bill becomes an Act, hopefully updated with the remainder of civil society’s amendments, ORG begins two equally important tasks: compelling a timely enactment date to make certain that the bill will not be shelved and forgotten like the previous FOIA 2012; and securing and aiding in an accessible public education campaign to teach the average Bahamian how to use this important tool. Persons at all levels should be made aware of their right to public information and taught how to access and use it to better their lives and the country.
We have come far since our first town hall in April 2016, but we have still have a ways go. We thank the MPs, Civil Society Partners, Senators, Private Industry Groups, and most importantly you - our supporters, for all you have done to get us to this point. We hope to have you by our side as we continue the fight for a Freedom of Information Act that is strong, fair and TRUE.