By KYLE WALKINE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IT IS more than likely the Bahamas will neither see a Freedom of Information Act nor a constitutional referendum as long as the Christie administration is in control because it is “not one of their major priorities”, a senior Opposition figure claimed yesterday.
Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Chairman Duane Sands said the two-year delay in implementing the Act showed a lack of legislative discipline. “An FOA would move us light years ahead. For the first time the public would realise that what we do in public office is not a secret service,” he said.
Dr Sands defended the Freedom of Information Bill that was passed in the House of Assembly before the 2012 General Election, saying that it was almost verbatim to the Act in the Cayman Islands. While he conceded there was room to make it better, Dr Sands stressed there was no reason for it to take up to two years before the government could produce a revamped Act to parliament.
“The last thing this crew wants is a Freedom of Information Bill to be brought before parliament,” he said. “It will not happen; period. It won’t happen just like we’re not going to see a constitutional referendum, neither Marco’s Law.
“There is no legislative discipline here at all. But they can put forth a numbers bill and a stem cell bill. The former FNM government was very near to putting in place the Freedom of Information Act. We just became challenged because the economy went to hell and FOA became a lesser priority than keeping the ship from sinking. But we made a commitment and honoured.”
Dr Sands said the country’s democracy is at risk of “being hijacked” at the table of the special interest. “Unfortunately, I think we are in a very dangerous era in our country,” Dr Sands said.
Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald, who also has responsibility for the FOA, recently told the media that the Department of Archives suggested an implementation timeline of 18 to 24 months.
However, Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader Branville McCartney said the government’s “feet dragging” in implementing the FOA is just another way to keep Bahamians uninformed as to what is really happening within their country.
“I find it amazing that it will take two years to amend a bill which is before the House of Assembly,” the DNA Leader told The Tribune yesterday.
“I must stress that prior to any Value Added Tax (VAT) coming into force in this country, we must have a viable FOA. This was recommended by the consultants from New Zealand. As a result of the recent report from the United States on the government’s lack of transparency there is a desperate need for a FOA.”
Mr McCartney said a FOA will not only drag several skeletons out of the closet of the government, but will have them thinking twice about their current practices.
“We have a very arrogant government,” Mr McCartney said. “They are basically telling us how certain processes are done. The government says there was a select bidding process in the Renew Bahamas situation. But there’s no such thing in law as a select bidding process. BEC awarded some contract to a Carolina-based company. However, I understand that same company is one of the five bidders on the table for BEC’s privatisation. That tells us the government is going to award the deal to that company.”
Mr McCartney said again the government is quiet on this issue as well.
The DNA Leader said when the PLP was in opposition, they made some very good recommendations to fix the Freedom of Information Bill. However, he questions the hold up as it can be fixed in less than a month if they wish.