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Johnson: Govt must honor commitment to enact FOIA

  • Elsworth Johnson.

Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: Sep 12, 2017

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With renewed calls for the Minnis administration to fully enact the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson said one of the main reasons he supported the Free National Movement (FNM) was because of its commitment to enacting this legislation and he expects the government, in keeping with its campaign slogan ‘It’s The People’s Time’, to bring this into fruition in a reasonable timeframe.

“I know that was one of the reasons I supported the FNM,” Johnson told The Nassau Guardian.

“I am hoping and trusting that we bring that part of our promise to fruition.”

He continued, “When I participated in the ‘We March’ demonstration, and [Dr. Hubert Minnis] marched in that march, one of the things this government had undertaken while in opposition was serious consideration would be given to freedom of information.

“...To my mind it is this government’s intention to select the [information] commissioner and to do all that is necessary to bring the full intention of the act into fruition.”

Johnson did not put a timeline to the appointment of an information commissioner or the infrastructure that must be instituted to facilitate the public accessing government documents.

But he said this appointment should not take the government long.

“The government has given a promise and we have said it is the people’s time,” he said.

“...Contemporary societies have freedom of informations acts.

“That’s how people are able to participate liberally, honestly and objectively in governance.

“This is an objective people’s government, so it has to be about it.

“Now, I can’t speak to the particulars in terms of who is being considered, [but] the timeline must be reasonable because people are watching.”

When pressed on what timeline would be appropriate, Johnson said, “To my mind in terms of the commissioner that shouldn’t take very long.

“There are a number of persons [who] come to my mind — they may not be in other people’s minds — who can reasonably sit as commissioner; who are objective; who are members of civil society will hold in high regard and who can be approached about sitting as the commissioner.”

Asked whether the government has a shortlist of candidates for the role, Johnson said he could not answer that at this time.

He was also prompted about the cost of the necessary infrastructure and human resources.

“I would prefer that the prime minister speak directly to that because it is a promise that he has made,” Johnson said.

“I don’t want to preempt him on anything.

“What I would say is that...it was one of the premiere reasons why I supported the Free National Movement and still support the Free National Movement, and my prime minister, because of what was happening and how information was just being scuttled away from the Bahamian people [under the previous administration].”

The Freedom of Information Bill was passed in Parliament earlier this year.

In June, the government reassured its commitment to the act, calling it a priority matter.

Johnson said the government is attuned to the concerns of civic society groups, which want to see the legislation bear fruit.

He commended Matthew Aubry, executive director or Organization for Responsible Governance, a non-profit foundation with the objective to promote good governance.

Aubry lobbied heavily for the legislation and made numerous recommendations as to how it could effectively function.

According to Johnson, the government has engaged these groups and the Bahamian people through its town hall meetings, and will continue to invite “objective advice and criticism” of anything it does.

A Freedom of Information Bill was passed under the Ingraham administration but never enacted.



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