Tribune: Advocacy Group Calling For Independent Freedom of Information Administrator

ANOTHER advocacy group has come forward with calls for the government to strengthen the independence of the administrator established in the draft of the new Freedom of Information Bill.

In its review of the bill, Citizens for a Better Bahamas (CBB) urged the government to reconsider the appointment process of the information commissioner to allow for an independent committee instead of on the advice of the prime minister.

The advocacy group on Tuesday outlined recommendations for the proposed bill in a letter to Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jerome Fitzgerald, who has oversight of the legislation.

Among the list of 20 proposed changes, key recommendations that have been echoed by international bodies are: the removal of a Cabinet minister’s ability to declare exemptions; the inclusion of legislation, administrative and non-statutory bodies under the scope of public authority; and the need for specific funding for the Freedom of Information (FOI) unit.

“The draft bill outlines a familiar process,” according to the CBB, “with the commissioner appointed to a five-year term by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister after consultation with the opposition leader.

“The information commissioner should be appointed through measures independent of the government as far as possible, such as the Judicial Services Committee or a parliamentary select committee with representation from the opposition.”

The statement added: “Civil society should be included in the decision-making process, either through membership on the select committee or by the publication of a short-list of candidates to solicit public feedback.”

It added: “The FOI Bill should also cover private organisations that operate with substantial public funds and performing public functions and services. This recommendation is based on the Antigua and Barbuda FOI Act, 2004, which defines a public authority as a body ‘owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government from public funds’.”

The local group also took issue with the decision not to include considerations of public interest against disclosure within the legislation, and vague language concerning a public authority’s right to defer access to a record on the grounds that its “premature release” would not be in the public interest.

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