FOIA provides for autonomous Information Commissioner/Freedom of Information Unit

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Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis, left, and Damian Cox, Chief Technical Director, Office the Prime Minister, Jamaica, Access to Information Unit -- review details at the opening of a Workshop on the Freedom of Information Act, 2017, hosted by the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, at Paul H. Farquharson Conference Centre, Police Headquarters on Monday. (BIS Photo/Peter Ramsay)

The Bahamas’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2017, provides for the appointment of an Information Commissioner whose independence and sterling character will be crucial to the working of the regime, Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis said Monday (April 23, 2018). Prime Minister Minnis made the announcement while addressing the Opening Session of a Workshop on the Freedom of Information Act, 2017, hosted by the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs at the Paul H. Farquharson Conference Centre, Police Headquarters. The Information Commissioner will be appointed by the Governor-General pursuant to Section 30 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2017, and upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. “It is crucial to note that the Information Commissioner will have the overall responsibility for the Freedom of Information regime,” Prime Minister Minnis said. “The Commissioner will be required to monitor public authorities to ensure that they are complying with the Act.”

Prime Minister Minnis said the Information Commissioner will establish a Freedom of Information Unit with its own staff and which will include one or more Deputy Information Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners. “The Information Commissioner will enjoy independence and autonomy in operating and administering the Freedom of Information Unit,” Prime Minister Minnis added. In order to further ensure the Information Commissioner’s independence, the Act provides that the Commissioner will be a ‘corporation sole’ and that he or she must be a fit and proper person, appropriately qualified for appointment; be independent, impartial and accountable; and have demonstrable knowledge in access to information or public and corporate governance. “If an individual, group or entity is not satisfied with a decision of a public authority, the Act provides for various levels of appeal up to the Supreme Court,” Prime Minister Minnis said.

Prime Minister Minnis said to properly implement the Freedom of Information regime, each public authority to which the Act relates, must have Information Managers to facilitate the requests for records and the granting of access to records. The Information Managers will be required to undergo special training. “Each public authority, in consultation with the Information Commissioner, must ensure that training is provided for its officials regarding the right to information and the effective implementation of the provisions of this Act as provided in Section 51,” Prime Minister Minnis added. Monday’s workshop was facilitated by Mr. Damian Cox, Chief Technical Director, Office the Prime Minister, Jamaica, Access to Information Unit, and Mr. Shane Miller, Assistant Director of Legal Affairs, The Bahamas.  Mr. Cox was involved in the implementation of Jamaica’s Access to Information Act, which is the equivalent to The Bahamas’ Freedom of Information Act.

The workshop included an Outline/Overview of the Bahamas FOIA, facilitated by Assistant Director Miller and also focused on Critical Components of Successful Freedom of Information Implementation and Jamaica’s Access to Information Experience – Challenges, Successes, and Opportunities, both facilitated by Chief Technical Officer Cox. It was attended by Members of the Cabinet of The Bahamas, the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Assembly, Parliamentary Secretaries, the Vice-President of the Senate, Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, Members of the Senate and House of Assembly, Secretary to the Cabinet, Financial Secretary, Senior Law Enforcement officials, Permanent Secretaries and other Senior Government Officials. Meaningful and productive workshops with the public sector and civil society groups are scheduled to be held over the next several days.

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