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Save The Bays Contributes to Public Consultation on Freedom of Information


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<!-- /templateDebugMode: end template: common/embeddedMedia.html - templateCell: globalDefault.embeddedMedia --> Save The Bays: The environmental movement Save The Bays submitted several recommendations for amendments to the proposed Freedom of Information Act, including what it considers the most critical change to the draft legislation – establishment of an apolitical, totally independent Information Commissioner and unit.“We are grateful to the government for inviting public input on this important draft Bill,” said Save The Bays Chairman Joseph Darville. “We submitted our recommendations by hand on June 21 along with a letter reflecting support for those submitted and shared with us by the Organization for Responsible Government (ORG) and we believe that with the considered contributions made by both groups along with consulting attorneys and students of transparency-related legislation, the Bill with recommended amendments could be one of the strongest anywhere, something The Bahamas could be proud of for many decades to come.”In the letter submitted to Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald under whose portfolio the pending legislation falls, Save The Bays called freedom of information “the bedrock of democracy” and a basic tenet of the organisation’s platform, adding that it was the absence of transparency that led to environmental threats throughout the islands, in turn triggering the filing of numerous legal cases by Save The Bays. Two years ago, Save The Bays led a massive demonstration in Rawson Square that brought together groups representing more than 35,000 members calling for freedom of information and the organization has campaigned tirelessly for the legislation that it says will enable communities to contribute to development plans that will impact them and will allow everyone to see the public’s business, including environmental impact assessments while there is still time to amend.Nearly 100 countries have passed some form of legislation allowing the public access to records, public contracts and fees with The Bahamas remaining in the minority of those still cloaked in secrecy with confidentiality taking priority over transparency. It has been more than 30 years since the United Nations called for all countries to abide by the Transnational Corporation agreement that declared the right to know a basic consumer right. Last year, the world body strengthened its call, trying to take politics out of the equation of open and transparent business deals as well as allowing consumers the right to know what ingredients were used in products.“The world is moving toward openness and yet the draft legislation that we have waited so long for in The Bahamas states that the Information Commissioner would be appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister following the consultation with the Leader of the Opposition,” said the organisation’s statement. “We recommend that final legislation provide for an Information Commissioner with no political affiliation be appointed by a process used by other jurisdictions that requires public involvement in the nomination and appointment of an Information Commissioner.”Save The Bays said the same independence should be afforded the budget. According to the draft legislation, Parliament would appropriate funding for the Freedom of Information Unit. The group also recommended extensive training abroad with a careful and deliberate roll-out following the completion of team members’ experience in a well-functioning Freedom of Information office. And they recommended slicing the time for an initial response from 30 to 20 days except where certain conditions exist.“Freedom of information is the bedrock of democracy,” said Fred Smith, QC. Director of Legal Affairs for Save The Bays and its former chairman. “Almost every other civilized nation in the world has a freedom of information act. They have it in England, throughout the UK, throughout the US, throughout Europe and the Caribbean. It is time for The Bahamas to lock step with other democratic nations. This is a great opportunity to make a real difference.”The Queen’s Counsel along with attorney Romauld Ferreira has filed several legal actions where the environment is threatened by unregulated development or lack of permits.“Critical to the process of “Government in The Sunshine”, is transparency, prevention of corruption, promotion of equal opportunity to Bahamians and accountable governance for a small nation like The Bahamas,” said Smith. “This will lead to a transparent and accountable FOIA statutory process on direct foreign investment preventing the secret Heads of Agreements on Anchor Projects”.“Our concern over a lack of Freedom of Information in The Bahamas has only been heightened and validated by the propagation of contentious and controversial projects such as Nygard Cay, a private resort located on Clifton Bay built on $35 million worth of Crown Land that began construction before permits were in place; Blackbeard Cay, a tourist attraction just north of Nassau which imported dolphins from Honduras in 2014 without following proper planning and permitting procedures under the Marine Mammal Protection Act; Great Guana Cay, in which citizens were abruptly displaced in 2005 after a developer was given the green light to develop 650 acres with no public consultation; and, the land deals of Mayaguana, the Ginn Project in Grand Bahama and BahaMar in New Providence which featured secret heads of agreements and tax concessions.”Along with its judicial matters, Save The Bays’ advocacy and education campaigns to sensitize the public to the importance of environmental protection continue on a daily basis and the organisation’s popularity grows along with its efforts.



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Save The Bays: The environmental movement Save The Bays submitted
several recommendations for amendments to the proposed Freedom of
Information Act, including what it considers the most critical change to
the draft legislation – establishment of an apolitical, totally
independent Information Commissioner and unit.

“We are grateful
to the government for inviting public input on this important draft
Bill,” said Save The Bays Chairman Joseph Darville. “We submitted our
recommendations by hand on June 21 along with a letter reflecting
support for those submitted and shared with us by the Organization for
Responsible Government (ORG) and we believe that with the considered
contributions made by both groups along with consulting attorneys and
students of transparency-related legislation, the Bill with recommended
amendments could be one of the strongest anywhere, something The Bahamas
could be proud of for many decades to come…”

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Save The Bays Contributes to Public Consultation on Freedom of Information

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