Archive | Freedom of Information Act

Fears that Parliamentary Committee will defy Court Order

Save The Bays invites International Observers to upcoming hearings amid concerns over fairness and impartiality; threat of further release of private information despite landmark Supreme Court ruling.

 

Environmental group Save The Bays (STB) is expressing grave concern over the decision to move forward with hearings before the Parliamentary Privileges Committee following the landmark Supreme Court decision vindicating their right to privacy.

STB chairman Joseph Darville said the group fears the hearings will be used to broadcast further private information belonging to its members, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled such disclosures unconstitutional and fined Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald $150,000 for an earlier breach.

“Save The Bays feels totally vindicated by the wise and proper actions of the Supreme Court and surprised that these hearings are proceeding at all considering the judge’s ruling and the fact that the matter is now before the Court of Appeal. We can only imagine that they intend to use this venue to try and justify the further release of our private information in violation of the Constitution of The Bahamas and in the face of the House Speaker’s own admission that the disclosures should not happen again,” Darville said.

“We are also gravely concerned about the nature of these proceedings as a whole. Senior members of the government have openly expressed an interest in holding us in ‘contempt of parliament’ and imprisoning us. With a committee chaired and dominated by members of the very same government we are somehow supposedly trying to destabilize, our accusers are effectively also our judges, jury and executioners. This is a clear violation of our constitutional right to due process and flies in the face of every international norm when it comes to impartiality and the fair administration of justice.”

Darville pointed out that the matters to be considered by the committee arose from an action brought by STB against an admitted major financial contributor to the governing party. He questioned how a neutral observer could avoid the impression that the hearings and threat of imprisonment is anything other than a case of politically motivated “revenge”.

I am in no way questioning the integrity of any member of the committee,” he said. “But as we know, justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done. This is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy.”

In order to protect their rights and ensure that the rule of law prevails, STB has formally invited several human rights groups and international oversight bodies to send observers to the hearings and briefed them on the context, including the ruling by Justice Indra Charles and the campaign of violence, threats, intimidation and harassment against STB members which sparked the controversy in the first place.

The groups invited include: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL); and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

We remain in active communication with these groups, forwarding them any and relevant information on this matter on a daily basis. It is a shame that the opinion of the Supreme Court is no longer good enough in The Bahamas, but if we have to appeal to the international community to protect ourselves from totally unfounded allegations and persistent attempts to paint us and our organization in a false light, we will not hesitate to do so.

KB’s latest, Anchor Projects, sponsored by Save The Bays reaches 40,000+ views

Kirkland ‘KB’ Bodie’s latest release for Save The Bays ‘Anchor Projects’ marries his environmental and social message with the musical giant’s classic rake ‘n scrape beat and it’s already attracted more than 40,000 since its launch May 31.

KB’s Latest Save The Bays Release ‘Anchor Projects’ Draws 40,000+ Views in 1st Month     

Kirkland ‘KB’ Bodie, the Bahamas’ top-selling recording artist, is pouring on the lyrical heat again taking his message with the unmistakable beat and a social conscience to the airwaves and the public’s appetite is bigger than ever – more than 40,000 have tuned in to hear ‘Anchor Projects’ since it launched last month.

“ ‘Anchor Projects hurtin’ we all’ is the latest in a series of songs with substance written and produced by KB and sponsored by Save The Bays, the environmental advocacy group with more than 20,000 Facebook friends and nearly 7,000 signatures on a petition calling for comprehensive freedom of information and environmental protection legislation. Its latest petition http://chn.ge/28KXoPz speaks directly to the subject of anchor projects and urges government not to replace the current Planning and Subdivision Act with a weaker version that would allow more projects to go through with less environmental and community control.

“Each one of the pieces I produced is aimed at getting all Bahamians regardless of age, education or social status to understand that what is important is preserving our environment and our culture, not trying to imitate someone else’s,” said the artist.

KB’s first song, Let’s Save The Bays, set the tone for mixing music with message and each one since has combined the sound of rake ‘n scrape and a catchy theme. As one young fan said, “KB brings a comedic view to a serious political issue.”

The music video contrasts large anchor projects including the empty and unfinished giant Baha Mar with smaller, huggable treasures like Graycliff and Compass Point. In the song he calls for more gems like those “More boutique hotels eco-friendly safe, we done drop enough anchor projects round da place.”

“Once again, KB has nailed it, putting the urgent need to protect community and the environment in a musical context that is so Bahamian and reaches everyone,” said Save The Bays Chairman Joseph Darville. “If you haven’t heard it yet, please go to our Facebook page, sign the Planning and Subdivision Act petition while you are there and if you have heard it and want to hear it more, call your favourite radio station. They do listen when people request songs.”

The concept of anchor projects was first introduced nearly 20 years ago as a way to create development on populated Family Islands with the government of the day believing that large resorts would attract visitors and provide jobs for Bahamians. That economic model has been controversial from the start generating fears that mega-resorts and large projects would not only put too much pressure on fragile marine and land environments but would also forever change the culture that existed on the island prior to construction. Small and stylish, laidback or luxurious were all better for the islands, opponents of anchor projects said.

Now K.B.’s music with the anchor project hook is an eerily rhythmic reminder of the early warnings.

“These anchor projects hurtin’ we all, the damage big, and returns are small,” he sings in the chorus. And elsewhere, “Remember anchors don’t lift you up, anchors hold you down.”

“We are very fortunate that an artist like KB chooses to use his music to reach out and to deliver a message reminding us not to sacrifice what we cherish because we believe it will earn a dollar and most of the time it is not even a dollar that at the end of the day will stay in The Bahamas,” said Save The Bays Chairman Joseph Darville. “That is not meant to be an anti-foreign sentiment because Save The Bays welcomes local and foreign investors but we just want development to be eco-friendly to preserve the very thing that draws people to this beautiful Bahamaland in the first place.”

 

 

Freedom of Information Key to Alleviating ‘Fear’ in The Bahamas

Only Legislation Demanding Transparency and Accountability Will Pave Way for Establishing Human Rights  

Last month, four controversial questions promoting gender equality in citizenship matters were put to public vote in The Bahamas in a hotly-contested referendum. As the world looked on, United Nations agencies applauded the country’s efforts to establish human rights standards in line with the international community, while citizens from every facet of Bahamian society engaged in contentious and emotional debates, many of which, it was suspected, were based more on intolerance and fear than on political and social principles.

In the end, fear won out, and all four proposed changes were rejected resoundingly and overwhelmingly, leaving some Bahamians wondering where the country goes from here when it comes to acquiring what many believe are fundamental human rights integral to any democratic society.

Save the Bays Chairman Joseph Darville appeared on a recent edition of “Ed Fields Live” on Nassau’s Kiss 96.1-FM radio station urging Bahamians to rely on wisdom rather than fear when making decisions about the future of the country, particularly when it comes to human rights policies.

Save the Bays Chairman Joseph Darville appeared on a recent edition of “Ed Fields Live” on Nassau’s Kiss 96.1-FM radio station urging Bahamians to rely on wisdom rather than fear when making decisions about the future of the country, particularly when it comes to human rights policies.

“The anger and intolerance has taken over the mentality of the average Bahamian. Bahamians are suffering a psychological crutch, a form of mental slavery,” Save The Bays Chairman and founding member of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, Joseph Darville, said on a recent edition of “Ed Fields Live” on Nassau’s Kiss 96.1-FM. “One of the things we lack in The Bahamas is wisdom. This lack of wisdom is the reason that fear has taken control of Bahamians.”

According to Darville, that fear is further exacerbated by an overall lack of transparency and accountability in government which is why he feels that passing a Freedom of Information Act is the only legitimate pathway to establishing rights and protections of any kind—be they civil, human or environmental—in The Bahamas.

“Fear has been used to keep the Bahamian down—fear in the church and fear in the political system,” Darville said. “I encourage my people, especially the young, to become educated, informed, committed and passionate about leading this Commonwealth for years to come. We are not independent until our spirits are free and all fear is removed from our hearts.”

As one of the main tenets in its platform, Save The Bays has pushed for Freedom of Information legislation since its inception, organizing the very first FOIA rally in Rawson Square in downtown Nassau in June 2014. Since then, the environmental advocacy group has worked tirelessly to make sure the issue remains on the public’s radar, most notably gathering more than 7,000 signatures on a petition calling for the government to pass an FOI bill. Deadline for public consultation on the proposed bill is July 15.

“All I want is for decisions to be wiser,” Darville said. “I want us to be conscious about the cause and effects of our actions. We need to reflect on what our actions will result in the future. The government should always have the best interest and the well-being of Bahamians in mind in the long run.”

For more information on the Freedom of Information Act, please visit www.savethebays.bs, www.orgbahamas.com or www.citizensforabetterbahamas.org Written recommendations should be emailed to foibahamas@gmail.com.

Leading Authorities on FOIA Speak Out on ‘Voice of the Bays’

Local Law Professor: ‘You Can’t Call Yourself a Democracy If You Don’t Provide Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to Your Citizens’

Clockwise from left: Leading authorities on the Freedom of Information Act Lemarque Campbell (Citizens for a Better Bahamas), Lisa Benjamin (Associate Law Professor at College of The Bahamas), Joseph Darville (Save the Bays Chairman) and Matt Albury (Executive Director for the Organization for Responsible Government),

Clockwise from left: Leading authorities on the Freedom of Information Act Lemarque Campbell (Citizens for a Better Bahamas), Lisa Benjamin (Associate Law Professor at College of The Bahamas), Joseph Darville (Save the Bays Chairman) and Matt Albury (Executive Director for the Organization for Responsible Government),

Leading Authorities on FOIA Speak Out on ‘Voice of the Bays’ to Emphasize Critical Role Bill Plays in Democratic Process as Clock Counts Down to deadline for Public Consultation July 15

As one of the main tenets in its platform, Save the Bays has pushed for Freedom of Information legislation since its inception, organizing the very first FOIA rally in Rawson Square in downtown Nassau in June 2014. Since then, the environmental advocacy group has worked tirelessly to make sure the issue remains on the public’s radar, most notably gathering more than 7,000 signatures on a petition calling for the government to pass an FOI bill.

“The people must have a voice to speak, they must have an avenue through which to be heard and they must be honored with respect to their opinion,” said Save the Bays Chairman Joseph Darville on Thursday as he opened ‘Voice of the Bays: The Environment Speaks,’ a weekly radio show that airs in both Freeport and Nassau on Love 97.5 FM.

Talk show guest Lisa Benjamin, an associate law professor at College of the Bahamas, augmented Darville’s statement by adding that any society that does not offer its citizens a Freedom of Information Act is not a true democracy.

“The FOI Act is really the hallmark of any democracy,” Benjamin said. “Freedom of Information is part of Freedom of Speech. The right to access information is an extension of Freedom of Speech.”

Benjamin has spent the past year and a half studying legislation around the world, with particular emphasis on Commonwealth countries such as England, Jamaica, Trinidad, New Zealand and Canada, as part of a Freedom of Information consultation committee formed to solicit public consultation regarding appropriately revising inconsistent and nebulous language that ultimately prevented the 2012 FOIA from being enacted.

The professor joined Darville on Thursday along with fellow FOIA experts Lemarque Campbell, a representative of Citizens for a Better Bahamas (CBB) and Matt Aubry, Executive Director for the Organization for Responsible Government (ORG), to urge the Bahamian public to offer input on the Freedom of Information Act before the public consultation deadline expires on July 15.

“We need to boil it down and convert people to get on board with this act. We need to make them realize they need this act, that they will be using this act going forward,” Aubry said. “Right now the process is being driven by folks who already understand the value of the Freedom of Information Act—activists, lawyers and the media. We have to get people to understand how critical this is to day-to-day life. People’s concerns about the safety in their neighborhood, the health issues in their community, how monies are being spent…this [FOIA] is our pathway, this is our door in. This starts participatory democracy.”

After all, Campbell added, at the end of the day, it’s the people’s money that’s being spent, so the public should have the right to know how fiscal decisions are being made and why. To address the issues of transparency and accountability, the CBB formed a committee last August to make its own recommendations for changes. After reviewing the most recent FOIA draft released in May 2015, CBB members were particularly concerned over the definition of public authority (ie: how public authority is defined when it comes to who is required to release information to the public). Currently the bill defines public authority strictly as government ministry and statutory bodies.

Additionally, Campbell and members of the CBB stress that the person overseeing implementation of the FOIA and responsible for upholding its tenants—the Information Commissioner—needs to be completely independent of political affiliation. Current language mandates this individual be a political appointee, but the CBB recommends this position be appointed by an independent body that includes members of the government as well as opposition members.

Funding for the bill is another major concern that should be formally outlined, according to Campbell.

“This is a very important piece of legislation that will help our democracy and it needs to be funded properly,” he said. “This bill will encourage citizen participation, giving them the tools to request and demand accountability.”

‘Voice of the Bays: The Environment Speaks,’ is a weekly radio show that airs every Thursday on Love 97FM from 5 to 6pm.

For more information on the Freedom of Information Act, please visit www.savethebays.bs, www.orgbahamas.com or www.citizensforabetterbahamas.org Written recommendations should be emailed to foibahamas@gmail.com

Leading Authorities on Freedom of Information to guest on Voice of the Bays

Bahamian organization appointed to international anti-corruption body

Leading Authorities on Freedom of Information to guest on Voice of the Bays

Matt Aubry, executive director Organization for Responsible Government (ORG)

Matt Aubry, executive director
Organization for Responsible Government (ORG)

Lemarque Campbell, Attorney and Bahamas representative of Transparency International through Citizens for a Better Bahamas

Lemarque Campbell, Attorney and Bahamas representative of Transparency International through Citizens for a Better Bahamas

With the deadline for public consultation on the long-awaited Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) fast approaching, two leading authorities will appear on a popular local radio show Thursday, June 23.

Attorney Lemarque Campbell and Matt Aubry, representatives of Citizens for a Better Bahamas (CBB) representatives will appear on the popular Save the Bays radio show, ‘Voice of the Bays: The Environment Speaks’ from 5-6pm this Thursday on Love 97.5 which will air live in Nassau and Grand Bahama.

Joseph Darville, radio show host and Chairman of Save the Bays, congratulated the organization after it was named the official national contact for Transparency International, a global entity with a mandate to identify areas of corruption among government, businesses and individuals while ensuring ongoing transparency and accountability through implementation of worldwide conventions.

“On behalf of Save the Bays, we are very pleased that through Citizens for a Better Bahamas, Transparency International will have a presence in The Bahamas,” said Darville. “FOIA is a crucial pillar of Save the Bays and we look forward to supporting, assisting and wherever possible aligning resources with Citizens for a Better Bahamas to make those who represent us accountable and ensure transparency among those acting on behalf of the people of this nation.”

              Both Aubry and Campbell will discuss the organization’s role and share findings which came out of multiple town hall meetings during the public consultation for FOIA held around the country and discussions with public and private shareholders, including representatives from the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employees Confederation on the consultation process. 

STB congratulates government on Freedom of Information move, Urges Independent Non-Political Commissioner Appointment

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.

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.”

Leading Environmental Group ‘Stunned’ at News ‘No Date for Freedom of Information Act’

No date for FOIA

Save The Bays, the fast-growing environmental movement, has expressed “disbelief and shock” following headlines in a recent Nassau daily revealing that the government has no date in mind for implementation of what was expected to be a revised freedom of information act.

“Freedom of information is the very bedrock of a democracy,” said Joseph Darville, Save The Bays Education Director. “It formalizes the people’s right to know what the government they elected is doing on their behalf, what deals they have signed, what contracts they are issuing, what developments are being approved, how they are spending our money.

“It is all about transparency and the news that the Minister of Education says the government has no date in mind for the introduction of what is supposed to be a revised freedom of information bill, was shocking and disappointing. We are stunned by the disregard and casual dismissal of all the efforts of so many thousands of people from every walk of life urging the introduction, enactment and implementation of something as basic to democracy as freedom of information.”

Similar concerns were echoed by Democratic National Alliance leader (DNA), Branville McCartney who declared that the government’s inability to act on Freedom of Information sends a strong negative message that it “DOES NOT WANT TO BE ACCOUNTABLE!”

“The only real way to ensure that rights of ALL BAHAMIANS are protected is to ensure that the transactions of those elected to lead are not concealed from the public,” McCartney said in a press release last week. “Freedom of Information is without question the first MAJOR step to ensuring that the systemic corruption that has plagued government agencies is reversed.”

The Bahamas Press Club also weighed in on the importance of the Act, saying that the issue has been unresolved for far too long. “We do not believe that it should take another two years to do that,” said the local group. “…freedom of information and a free press are critical to the preservation and deepening of our democracy.”

Save The Bays organized two rallies last year to call attention to the need for a freedom of information legislation. The first held in June drew a crowd of religious leaders, government workers, representatives of political parties, unions, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and other business and civic organizations to a massive peaceful demonstration in Rawson Square. The downpour that at times forced participants to seek cover under tents did little to dampen spirits and caught the attention of scores of tourists passing by from the public square near the cruise ship dock who paused to listen to speeches by the head of the FNM, the DNA and other prominent Bahamian organizations and churches. Several visitors said they were shocked that in a free country like The Bahamas, there was no freedom of information. In the end, many from abroad added their signatures to a petition calling on government to remedy the situation.

That petition now has nearly 7,000 signatures and is expected to be presented to government before the next budget is passed.

“This is the very same government that in 2012 shortly before the last national election criticized the FNM for failing to enact a freedom of information act. A currently sitting MP rose in the House of Assembly and delivered a moving and provocative speech declaring the people have a right to know,” said Save The Bays Chairman Fred Smith. “We had a right to know then and we have a right to know now. This is not something that is going to go away. How many callers who phone in to various talk radio shows are asking for freedom of information? It’s a daily mantra. We just hope the government is listening to the pleas of people who only want what is rightfully theirs, the right to know.”

The FNM did introduce a freedom of information bill shortly before the last election but it was never enacted. When the PLP was swept into office in May, 2012, it said the bill had so many flaws that it would be harder to re-draft than re-write.

“Nearly three years have passed while we awaited the re-writing of this bill,” Smith continued. “A lot has been accomplished in three years, but clearly freedom of information was not a top priority and we trust that through the continued pressure from so many persons in the community the Christie Administration will recognize how widespread the cry for the right to know has become.”

Proponents of freedom of information have repeatedly suggested that The Bahamas review and take the best from similar legislation in other countries, noting this is one of the last remaining nations not to have some type of freedom of information act. More than 100 countries including the U.S., England, China, Uganda, Nigeria and Jamaica have existing legislation and a platform for handling requests. When legislation is enacted in The Bahamas, responsibility for compliance with handling requests will rest with the Ministry of Education that maintains the official Archives and it was the words of the current Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald that sparked the “stunned” and “in shock and disbelief” comments from Save The Bays. According to the news story, Fitzgerald told Tribune staff reporter Ricardo Wells that while he now knows the monetary costs of implementing such an act, he has “no date in mind” for introducing it and plans to discuss with his colleagues before any further information is available to the public.

Freedom of information is one of several tenets Save The Bays is calling for. Among the others are an environmental protection act, an end to unregulated development, and accountability for the oil leakage and pollution at Clifton Bay. In less than two years, it has fought and won several costly legal battles, created a youth environmental ambassadors program in Grand Bahama that is so popular that has nearly doubled in size, produced an information-oriented radio show and maintained a steady stream of community and public relations efforts calling attention to the need to preserve and protect critical marine and land resources. Updated information on the organisation’s activities is available on its website, www.savethebays.bs and on its Facebook page which has drawn more than 17,200 likes.

Downtown comes to life in the name of greater transparency

Charlotte Street North came to life in support of the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act. Organizer Save The Bays said the event showed that Bahamians mean business when it comes to creating a more open and transparent society.

Charlotte Street North came to life in support of the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act. Organizer Save The Bays said the event showed that Bahamians mean business when it comes to creating a more open and transparent society.

A hub of activity during the day, downtown Nassau is usually quiet and unpeopled after the sun goes down.

 

Last Friday though, historic Charlotte Street North burst into life, light and sound as Bahamians once again gathered to call for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the name of greater transparency and accountability in public life.

 

Bahamian superstar KB whipped the crowd into an FOIA frenzy

Bahamian superstar KB whipped the crowd into an FOIA frenzy

The FOIA Street Party was organized by fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays (STB) in conjunction with a number of its community partners. It was the second successful event of its kind, following a rally in Rawson Square in July in which drew more than 20 groups representing 60,000 members.

 

Bahamian superstar and FOIA warrior Kirkland ‘KB’ Bodie and his Rhythm Band headlined the entertainment, while speakers included newly-elected chairman of the opposition Free National Movement (FNM) Michael Pintard, outspoken activist and church leader Rev. CB Moss and STB education director Joseph Darville.

 

Save The Bays education director Joseph Darville said FOI is about passing on a better Bahamas to future generations.

Save The Bays education director Joseph Darville said FOI is about passing on a better Bahamas to future generations.

“We would like to thank our sponsors and partners for their generous help and support,” said Save The Bays CEO Lindsey McCoy. “Van Breugel’s Restaurant & Bistro did a wonderful job in hosting the event. Sands, Bristol Wines and Spirits and John Watling’s Distillery donated their products for sale to raise money for the FOIA effort, while the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, the Employers’ Confederation and Citizens for a Better Bahamas were indispensable partners when it came to organizing the event.

 

“We would also like thank all those who came out to help us show, once again, that we mean business when it comes to getting a FOIA for The Bahamas.”

 

McCoy said STB and its ever-expanding coalition of partners are already planning the next event, to be held in the early next year.

 

Signing up in support of greater transparency and accountability in government.

Signing up in support of greater transparency and accountability in government.

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. What began as a grassroots environmental awareness campaign quickly mushroomed to cover a variety of civic and social justice concerns and grievances as other advocacy groups flocked to STB’s banner.

 

The movement now has more than 500 registered members, the largest Facebook audience of any Bahamian NGO with 17,000 followers and more than 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for an FOIA, an Environmental Protection Act and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.

 

If you’d like to see an Freedom of Information act passed in The Bahamas, please sign the petition at http://www.chn.ge/15O68LY

Freedom of Information Block Party Promises Cause for Celebration

Freedom Call – FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis supporting Freedom of Information legislation at a rally in Rawson Square that drew representatives from some 20 organizations representing more than 60,000 members. A block party reinforcing the need for transparency in government is set for Charlotte Street South this Friday, December 5 starting at 5 pm. The event featuring live entertainment is free and open to the public. The Bahamas remains one of a very few countries whose citizens have no rights to information about the government’s business and the call for legislation guaranteeing the public’s right to know is gaining voices from all quarters.

Freedom Call – FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis supporting Freedom of Information legislation at a rally in Rawson Square that drew representatives from some 20 organizations representing more than 60,000 members. A block party reinforcing the need for transparency in government is set for Charlotte Street South this Friday, December 5 starting at 5 pm. The event featuring live entertainment is free and open to the public. The Bahamas remains one of a very few countries whose citizens have no rights to information about the government’s business and the call for legislation guaranteeing the public’s right to know is gaining voices from all quarters.

Hundreds are expected to fill Charlotte Street South Friday evening for a block party with stage, live entertainment, food, beverage, and roving microphone all aimed at building a growing groundswell of momentum demanding Freedom of Information.

“You always hear about a cause for celebration, this is a celebration for a cause,” said Lindsey McCoy, CEO of Save The Bays, which is organizing the Freedom of Information street party set for 5-8 pm.

Numerous organizations are joining the march toward what has been called the basic tenet of any democracy – the public’s right to information, also known as transparency in government.

“We had a hugely successful turnout in March with union leaders, civic groups, clergy, celebrities and politicians who joined the growing cry for something that is a basic tenet of any democracy, a Freedom of Information Act, (FOIA)” said McCoy. “We expect an even larger crowd Friday night when we send a loud and clear message – it’s time to end secret deals and create legislation that guarantees citizens’ rights to information, including planned developments, that impact their lives.”

Headlining the December 5 block party will be KB and the Rhythm Band featuring The Bahamas’ top-selling musical artist Kirkland ‘KB’ Bodie. Other entertainers are expected to take the stage at the event hosted by Van Breugel’s Restaurant & Bistro and co sponsored by Sands, Bristol Wines and Spirits and John Watling’s Distillery. The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation has also been a strong supporter of the FOIA legislation that recommended as a part of a successful implementation of VAT.

“The momentum demanding passage of a Freedom of Information Act is gaining strength every week with more individuals and groups signing petitions, talking about transparency and urging legislation that will prevent all governments – not just this government, but all governments — from engaging in secret deals in which the very public being affected do not even have the right to participate in decision-making that will impact their lives,” said Joseph Darville, who normally wears two environmental hats  — Education Director for Save The Bays and Bahamas Waterkeeper – and will add a third on Friday as emcee of the block party. “The public has a right to know and to participate in the public’s business.”

On This We Agree – DNA Leader Bran McCartney calls for Freedom of Information legislation during a rally in Rawson Square in March, the kick-off to a campaign that has steadily gained momentum urging The Bahamas to join the vast majority of the world’s nations that ensure the public possesses the right to know the public’s business. The DNA and FNM both called for transparency during the rally. A Freedom of Information block party with Kirkland ‘KB’ Bodie and the Rhythm Band headlining the entertainment is set for Friday on Charlotte Street South. The event, organized by Save The Bays, is free and open to the public. Co-sponsors include Van Breugel’s, Bristol Wines & Spirits, John Watling’s Distillery and Sands.

On This We Agree – DNA Leader Bran McCartney calls for Freedom of Information legislation during a rally in Rawson Square in March, the kick-off to a campaign that has steadily gained momentum urging The Bahamas to join the vast majority of the world’s nations that ensure the public possesses the right to know the public’s business. The DNA and FNM both called for transparency during the rally. A Freedom of Information block party with Kirkland ‘KB’ Bodie and the Rhythm Band headlining the entertainment is set for Friday on Charlotte Street South. The event, organized by Save The Bays, is free and open to the public. Co-sponsors include Van Breugel’s, Bristol Wines & Spirits, John Watling’s Distillery and Sands.

The urgency by more than a dozen diverse groups calling for enactment of Freedom of Information was fed by a number of recent factors. Shortly before it left office in 2012, the former governing party tabled a Freedom of Information bill. That was killed by the current government which promised to fix what it called a weak piece of legislation with flawed provisions and lacking in regulations, but no bill has yet been substituted. In the meantime, numerous developments were approved, including a massive cruise ship dock and hotel plan that would deliver up to half a million people to Bimini, an island that now entertains about 50,000 visitors a year, potentially doing extensive damage to its world-famous reefs, with residents reeling from what they said was lack of consultation, and no response to letters they wrote seeking information.

In the 18 months since its founding, Save The Bays has become the outspoken voice calling for environmental protection, citizens’ right to know and an end to oil pollution and unregulated development. Still in its infancy, its following has set records for a non-governmental organization with more than 17,000 Facebook Likes and nearly 7,000 signatures on a petition to the government.

QC: Stop the secrecy ‘Every deal should be out on the table’

Noted environmental and human rights attorney Fred Smith, QC, chairman of Save The Bays, addresses the Rotary Club of East Nassau, urging an end to secrecy, patronage, worship of leaders and a more open and transparent investment policy.

Noted environmental and human rights attorney Fred Smith, QC, chairman of Save The Bays, addresses the Rotary Club of East Nassau, urging an end to secrecy, patronage, worship of leaders and a more open and transparent investment policy.

One of the country’s top lawyers is calling for an end to secrecy in government, questioning how The Bahamas can compete in a global investment climate or how the public can believe in its system of governance or its leaders when every potential investor has to see the Prime Minister personally to make a deal.

“Why is the Prime Minister of The Bahamas walking around with a private person deciding what land he should have or not have?” asked Fred Smith, QC, noting the practice was particularly flagrant outside New Providence. “The Family Islands are not colonies of The Bahamas.”

Smith, chairman of Save The Bays, made his comments during a near standing room only crowd at the October 31 meeting of the Rotary Club of East Nassau. Among the guests was long-time Rotarian Sir Durward Knowles, the Bahamas’ first Olympic gold medalist, who was celebrating his 97th birthday and reminisced about playing rugby with Smith’s father. But those were far more innocent days, the two local heroes from different generations agreed, and now Smith worries that The Bahamas is headed in the wrong direction.

“The biggest problem we face in The Bahamas is that we worship the people in power,” said the legendary litigator whose court appearances draw law students and garner media attention. Blind worship of leaders, he said, leads to acceptance of practices that would not be tolerated elsewhere.

“If I want to invest in a residence or a business in Florida, I don’t go to Tallahassee (the capital) and walk around with the governor,” he said. But in The Bahamas, the foreign investor who wants to build a resort or a development has to go through the Office of the Prime Minister, pay homage and discuss all the proposals in private and seek a Heads of Agreement – all cloaked in secrecy, barring those who might be affected by the proposed development from even commenting on it.

The practice, he said, also adds to the Bahamian distrust of foreigners.

“Bahamians don’t have to go to the Office of the Prime Minister. We are able to conduct business without having to go to the Office of the Prime Minister. But the foreigner does.” And that, he believes, leads to a suspicion of favouritism.

“We rely on foreign investment and we need foreign capital,” Smith said. “But we believe that what is white and what is foreign is evil.” And that, he thinks, is due to the perception that those secret meetings lead to secret deals with the foreigner emerging with more benefits than locals, including quickly being granted Crown Land for bargain prices while 3,500 applications for Crown Land grants by Bahamians await review, some on file for years.

“The way we are conducting business now is a recipe for economic disaster, for corruption and for dictatorship,” he charged. “The government needs to remember they are employees and we have a right to know what they are doing. Every deal that the government enters into should be out on the table for everyone to see. The proposals should be presented, debated, every part – property tax exemption, Customs duties, Crown Land grants. We are completely ignorant about the business of government and the business of government should be in the hands of businesspeople.

“This entire system makes Freedom of Information a real issue in this country.”

Urging passage of Freedom of Information act is one of the major tenets of Save The Bays, along with an end to unregulated development, accountability for oil pollution and passage of an environmental protection act. The fast-growing environmental advocacy group has set records in social media with more than 17,100 Facebook friends and over 6,000 signatures on a petition on www.savethebays.bs supporting its principles.

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