A cross-section of government ministries and agencies were represented at the first of a series of training sessions on the Bahamas’ Freedom of Information Act which opened Tuesday, May 16, 2023 at the National Training Agency.
Aylair Livingstone, consultant, attorney and expert in the field, is facilitating the sessions. The 3-day training is organized by the Freedom of Information Unit, which is headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Keith Thompson who is assisted by Shane Miller, Deputy Commissioner, and Sally-Ann Pratt, Assistant Commissioner.
The training agenda includes an overview of the FOI Act, Handling FOI requests, Protection and Penalties, Exemptions, Sensitive Personal Data and Data Protection Act and Appeals, among others.
Commissioner Thompson remarked that the idea of freedom of information (FOI) or access to information is to bring about “more accountability, more transparency, and in my opinion the preservation of the integrity of the entire system.”
He told the participants that they are “making history today” because they are going to be the “go to” people for the public. He encouraged them to absorb as much of the information being provided as they could.
Said Commissioner Thompson, “We are still in the process of setting up the Freedom of Information Unit which will oversee continuous training.
“These will be the ministries that the public will really want the information from. Some will get more than others: depending on the amount of requests you get will determine whether you can do it by yourself or you create a support team.
“You are the first line of access. We want you to digest as much as you can. We will be available even after this week so if you have questions when you go back to your respective ministries and/or agencies you can always contact us.
“You’re going to be the first agencies and ministries receiving this information. The technology that we will be using is presently being created and that will require another set of training but we are well on our way.”
Ms. Livingstone described the training as a “wonderful, challenging” opportunity.
“Our purpose here today is to begin the process of making you comfortable with the roles that you are going to assume. We are going to help you along the way,” she said.
According to the Office of the Information Commissioner, the objective of the Freedom of Information Act (2017) is to promote government accountability, transparency and public participation in national decision-making by granting the public a general right of access to records held by the Bahamas Government. It also requires that certain information be made available proactively (voluntarily).
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