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Freedom Of Information Bill Does Not Fix Flaws, Says Expert

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

THE draft Freedom of Information Bill does not eliminate the flaws inherent in previous legislation passed by the former Ingraham administration, an expert on right to information laws has said.

Canadian Toby Mendel, executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), wrote a letter last month to Jerome Fitzgerald, the minister responsible for the legislation, in which he expressed concerns about the draft legislation’s weaknesses. His organisation ranked the draft bill 38th out the 102 countries that have such legislation.

The letter, which has been obtained by The Tribune, was sent a week after the government released a draft of a new Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill to the public. Mr Fitzgerald said during a recent Parliament session that the Bill dramatically improves upon the Ingraham administration’s 2012 version of the law, saying it will “narrow the class of documents that are exempt from disclosure,” recommend “for a standalone whistle-blowing legislation” and call for a “review of the Official States Secrets Act.”

In his letter, Mr Mendel notes that the CLD uses a right to know (RTI) rating to assess the strength of such laws. This rating is formed after analysing whether RTI laws meet global standards with regard to ways that include requesting procedures, appeals processes, and exemptions.

According to Mr Mendel, the CLD has concluded in its assessment that the 2012 bill deserves 88 points, putting it in 48th place worldwide. Meanwhile, the 2015 version of the FOI bill scores 93 points, putting it at 38th place compared to the other 102 countries that have RTI legislation.

“This is far below Caribbean countries Antigua and Barbuda and the Cayman Islands which score, respectively, 113 and 112 on the RTI rating,” he said.

“Although the new bill has some modest improvements over the 2012 (FOIA), the main problems have not been addressed and it still fails to meet international standards in many respects,” he said, adding: “CLD welcomes the improvements in the 2015 bill, such as rules suggesting harm is required before an exception is engaged and removing the power of the minister to issue certificates effectively rendering information secret. “However, the 2015 bill is also weaker in some respects, including by adding new and problematical exceptions and by giving the minister the power to exclude additional bodies from the ambit of the law. Full consultation and debate prior to enacting a right to information law is appropriate, given its democratic importance and complexity. “However, there has been ample time for debate on this issue in the Bahamas and it is now time to move forward decisively to adopt a law, albeit a law which respects international and constitutional standards in this area. The weaknesses of the 2012 bill are now well-known and the same is now true of the 2015 bill.”

Mr Mendel, who has consulted with the United Nations, the World Bank and other multi-lateral agencies on freedom of information legislation, has pledged the centre’s support to the government in passing an effective FOIA.

The former administration passed a FOIA in 2012 but the law was never enacted. When the Christie administration assumed office, the government said the law needed to be overhauled or scrapped for a new one.

Comments

asiseeit 4 years, 3 months ago

Any person that thinks our politicians will give The Bahamas a REAL freedom of information bill, that has teeth, will hold them accountable, and that will help keep them honest, is due for their appointment at Sandilands. Our political class is the most deceitful, dishonest, corrupt, unethical, and immoral portion of the citizenry of The Bahamas there is, closely followed by many that lead churches in this country. I would rather trust a drug dealer than a politician. As long as this country is ruled by the level of characters we have as politicians today, there is no hope or chance of a prosperous future for everyday Bahamians. A country led by gangsters has no future.

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asiseeit 4 years, 3 months ago

The only way to weed out corruption is to put a bounty on any and all corruption that can be exposed. Bahamians need to get together and put together a kitty of say $500,000-1 million dollars. Any person that exposes corruption that can be proven would be awarded $50,000 - $100,000. We want the head of the snake so the higher up the corruption that is exposed the greater the reward. So who wants to donate to the cause? I most certainly would put money in the account to bring some justice to the Bahamian people. What say you?

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duppyVAT 4 years, 3 months ago

Are we becoming a surrogate colony that is joint-owned by Canada and China??????? WTF??????

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newcitizen 4 years, 3 months ago

If that happened this place would be much better off. Leaving these corrupt politicians to run this place has nearly ruined it.

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ThisIsOurs 4 years, 3 months ago

Well surprise surprise surprise (in my best Gomer Pyle imitation voice). All I have to say is "national security"

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newcitizen 4 years, 3 months ago

The funny part is that there is little to no piece of information in this country that would qualify as a matter of national security.

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ohdrap4 4 years, 3 months ago

he may have been hired to declare that so another postponement will happen.

think about it:

-- rubis brouhah --release the draft bill which 'could not be fixed till next year' to distract the people --urban renewal brouhaha -- launch the pr website [run by canadians] to distract the people --while the people are distracted by the website and the crnival artits that did not get paid, let's find fault with the foia.

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duppyVAT 4 years, 3 months ago

Ur on to somting here!!!!!!!!!!!

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licks2 4 years, 3 months ago

The Bahamian people will just have to become a "leaking nation" by putting corruption out in the public and hide under the whistle blower's clause!!! I will contribute to the bounty fund. . .

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asiseeit 4 years, 3 months ago

How much does corruption cost each and every Bahamian? I would say well over a thousand dollars. Lost education, lost development, lost economy, lost chances for advancement. Productivity? Outright Theft? A bounty on the corrupt scum would be cheap compared to what corruption costs this country. Can you imagine where this country could be if our leaders really WORKED for the country? Could ou imagine if everyone had to play by the same rules and those rules where laid out fair and square? The more I think about this bounty on corrupt scum the more I want it to happen. If every Bahamian put say $10 in the fund, boy we could catch some slime ball, dead easy. Bahamians love money, this would be a way for them to make money AND help their nation.

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