STB congratulates government on Freedom of Information move, Urges Independent Non-Political Commissioner Appointment
Paid Lobby parading around as environmentalists seeking to jail the PM and DPM all of a sudden wants something else! Mr. Christie – YA WASTING YA TIME WITH FRED SMITH DEM!!!!
Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, CEO of the fast-growing environmental movement Save The Bays, congratulates the Christie government following release of draft Freedom of Information Act, but urges attention to public input and appointment of an independent commissioner to assure an end to secret deals that can harm the environment.
Calling it “a step in the right direction,” Save The Bays CEO Vanessa Haley-Benjamin today congratulated the government on the release of the draft Freedom of Information Act, but said to be effective the final legislation must provide for an independent commissioner and contain “more teeth than loopholes.”
“Releasing the long-awaited Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) draft this week was a step in the right direction and Save The Bays welcomes the news and congratulates the government,” said Benjamin. “But a step is just that. One step in a long journey. The path to true freedom of information which is the public’s right to know and the bedrock of any democracy means the act must have more teeth than loopholes.”
The first condition of real freedom of information is to remove it from the political arena, she said.
“The appointment of an independent commissioner is absolutely essential if freedom of information is to be effective,” said Benjamin. “That is the first requirement and the most basic tenet – take politics out of it. We will know that the government is serious about the public’s right to know if those charged with answering requests for information are non-political and their jobs are not tied to a given government office where their jobs can be threatened or their answers influenced.”
Independent administration will demonstrate that those who are introducing freedom of information legislation are not just paying lip service to the increasing calls for the right to know, but really mean it, she said.
Those calls have gotten louder in volume and more frequent in number over recent months, thanks in part to repeated activity, rallies, social media calls and demonstrations hosted by Save The Bays with partners representing a broad cross-section of civic, religious, business and labour organisations. At one rally last year, it was estimated that associations that joined Save The Bays in calling for freedom of information numbered over 60,000 people.
“We are extremely pleased that the government is responding,” said Benjamin. “Freedom of information is urgently needed. As it stands now, developments are being approved with virtually no input from residents even when those developments are going to directly affect them. That should never be the case. And we need to know before the first shovel turns the first soil how proposed projects are going to impact the environment. How many times have governments sacrificed treasures of nature and history in the name of jobs? If we are serious about preserving our coral reefs, our mangroves and wetlands that are the nurseries for young fish, our bonefish flats, all our marine resources that make the Bahamas the beautiful country it is, we must be serious about public participation in the planning process.”
Currently, she said, there is no provision for the public to see what contracts are being negotiated or what treasures of nature or history are being sacrificed in the name of jobs.
]“If freedom of information becomes part of our culture, it will mean an end to closed door deals and the only time information is withheld will be when it could be a breach of national security. We hope that is the case and they are not just playing with emotions with the introduction of this act that we have been awaiting since the former government introduced but never passed it,” said Benjamin. “The time is now. Let’s get it right and it will become the legacy of this administration that will help preserve this magnificent Bahamas for future generations.”
Founded just over two years ago, Save The Bays began as a grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of The Bahamas from unregulated development. It has quickly grown into a broad-based coalition calling for comprehensive environmental protections, oil spill legislation and greater transparency in government. With more than 17,200 followers on Facebook, STB is the fastest growing, most popular non-profit, non-government organization in Bahamas history on social media. The group’s petition calling on the government to enact an Environmental Protection Act, a Freedom of Information Act, stop unregulated development and end to oil pollution is climbing in numbers, with around 6,500 signatures so far. To get involved, sign the petition or learn more, visit www.savethebays.bs.