Categorized | Business, National News

FOI Momentum Still Going Strong

The impact of June’s groundbreaking Freedom of Information (FOI) rally in Rawson Square is still being felt across the country as key businesses, numerous NGOs and scores of concerned citizens continue to show their ardent support for increased transparency and accountability in government.

The drumbeat for greater openness also continues to reverberate through the airwaves thanks to dozens of sympathetic TV and radio hosts, talk show guests and callers.

“We could not be more pleased with how the call for Freedom of Information has caught hold of the public imagination,” said Lindsey McCoy, CEO of Save The Bays, the fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group that organized the rally.

“One of the most encouraging signs is the durability of our message, as seen in the number of companies that continue to sport FOI t-shirts distributed at the rally during business hours on a regular basis.

“Many have vowed to continue doing so until the government lives up to its promise to enact a Freedom of Information Act that would allow members of the public to access information that affects their interest and livelihoods.”

New Oriental Cleaners owner Lana Lee said her company continues to wear the t-shirts because FOI remains an significant issue for The Bahamas, especially in the face of several worrying developments, the details of which continue to be kept from the public.

“We have got VAT (Value Added Tax) coming and we need to know where the money raised will go,” she said. “We also have this energy reform issue, where Stellar Energy was offered a deal and we still don’t know what was behind that. We need transparency.”

Employees of Furniture Plus Ltd. also sport the t-shirts once a week as a way of demonstrating to customers that the company supports for the swift enactment of the Act.

Krystynia Lee Darville, vice president of sales, marketing and organizational development, said: “Furniture Plus believes that the Freedom of Information Act is a relevant process to all countries and looks forward to The Bahamas continuing in its transparency efforts in collaboration with the private and public sector and the government,” she said.

FOI legislation exists in 100 countries around the world, including the overwhelming majority of parliamentary democracies. Outlining a process by which journalists, NGOs and regular citizens can gain access to government documents and records, it is widely considered a hallmark of good governance and an essential requirement to a fair and just society.

McCoy said the rally was just the first in a series of FOI events that STB and its growing coalition of partners intend to host. The next will be a street party on Charlotte Street south, scheduled for October 25.

STB declared the rally a huge success, as more than 20 groups and organizations, collectively representing more than 60,000 people took part. These included human rights and environmental advocates, opposition political parties, civil society groups, church leaders and representatives of the labor movement.

“We are hoping for an even higher level of interest for our street party and other upcoming events,” McCoy said. “We are very encouraged by the way the message is already spreading like wildfire.

“Together, we are determined to keep the momentum going and convince the government to deliver on its promise – sooner rather than later.”

Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald recently indicated that it would take the Christie administration until 2016 to bring an FOI bill to Parliament – a delay STB rejects as unacceptable.

McCoy noted that during the run-up to the 2012 election, the PLP promised to take swift action on the matter if successful, and already had a blueprint in place in the form of the former FNM government’s FOI Act, passed just before the government changed hands.

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. What began as a grassroots environmental awareness campaign quickly mushroomed to cover a variety of civic and social justice concerns and grievances as other advocacy groups flocked to STB’s banner.

The movement now has more than 500 registered members, the largest Facebook audience of any Bahamian NGO with 17,000 followers and over 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for a Freedom of Information Act, an Environmental Protection Act and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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