Grand Bahama Human Rights Association President Fred Smith, QC, applauded the government yesterday for presenting a draft of the Freedom of Information Bill.
During an interview with The Bahama Journal, Smith said the bill demonstrates the government’s genuine and sincere commitment to democracy.
“I am absolutely thrilled and wish to extend congratulations to Minister Fitzgerald and the Progressive Liberal Party government for bringing the Freedom of Information Bill to parliament sooner rather than later,” Smith said.
Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jerome Fitzgerald is responsible for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and earlier this year he said the government is ready to implement the act because the initial challenges with the legislation have been resolved.
For several years, Smith made calls for the government to pass a Freedom of Information Act and now he says the fact that the country is going to have some sort of FOIA, sooner rather than later, makes a big difference to the nation’s democracy.
He explained that he had doubts about the sincerity of the government’s intention to bring into effect a Freedom of Information Bill because government officials said previously that the bill won’t be introduced until the end of 2016 and it would take another year before implementation.
Smith expressed that the government’s decision to fast forward its agenda and present a draft of the Freedom of Information Bill is “very good for our democracy.”
The GBHRA president added that it is his hope that the government would fast track the bill through parliament the same way it fast tracked Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard’s stem cell legislation.
“The FOIA act is far more important and fundamental to The Bahamas than Mr. Nygard’s stem cell act,” Smith said.
He pointed out that the Free National Movement government promised “government in the sunshine” from 1992, but there has been no sunshine in The Bahamas since then.
The “cloak of secrecy”, according to Smith, has overshadowed governments in The Bahamas through FNM and PLP administrations.
Therefore, the Freedom of Information Bill seeks to reinforce governmental accountability, transparency and public participation in national decision-making by granting to the public a general right of access to records held by public authorities, subject to exemptions which balance the right against the public interest in exempting from disclosure governmental and commercial information.