Freedom Of Information Bill To Emerge From 4-Year Limbo

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Another promise of a Freedom of Information Bill was made in the House of Assembly this week. While the promise is an old one the bearer is newly appointed Territorial Governor His Excellency, Governor John Duncan.

The highly anticipated Freedom of Information legislation is constantly being referred to as the much-needed Bill for information related issues of the Territory and it came as no surprise that the promise of such a Bill made yet another appearance in the 2014 Speech from The Throne delivered on November 10.

The promise of such a bill was first made in 2011, repeated in 2012, mentioned in 2013, and promised again in 2014.

In Monday’s Speech Governor Duncan announced: “ Government will seek to introduce the Freedom of Information Bill to provide the public with the right of access to information in the possession of the public authorities, thus making available to the public information about the operations of public authorities and, in particular, ensuring that the authorizations, policies, rules and practices affecting members of the public in their dealings with public authorities are readily available to persons affected by those authorizations, policies, rules and practices.”

In his Speech that was delivered on 7 October 2013, previous Governor Boyd McCleary announced that Government still intended to pilot such a bill.

Bill Drafted

It was announced in January 2012 that a Freedom of Information Act had already been drafted and was awaiting attention from legislators to become law. Information about the legislation was disclosed by renowned Attorney Gerard St.C Farara Q.C who was presenting under the topic “The 2007 Constitution and Good Governance in the Virgin Islands” during the 24th annual Frederick Pickering memorial lecture on 17 January.

Queen’s Counsel Farara announced that the Law Reform Commission drafted and submitted a Freedom of Information legislation to government, in response to the fact that the Territory does not have any such law. He stated that the drafted legislation was submitted to Government for their consideration and tabling before the House of Assembly.

Mr. Farara explained that a Freedom of Information Act was much needed, as it is key to enabling members of the public to have access to and become more informed about matters relating to decision-making in Government.

“Such legislation has certain financial and other implications for the Territory when fully implemented. Accordingly, as elsewhere, it may have to be brought into effect piecemeal over a period of time. That having been said, the importance of such legislation to transparency, accountability and generally keeping the public informed about government activities, cannot be ignored. As we have seen, this is most critical to the free flow of information and hence good governance,” Mr. Farara stated.

The topic of Limbo Legislation was recently discussed in an editorial of The Island Sun titled “Let’s call a Spade a Spade” which can be read online at http://www.islandsun.com/lets-call-a-spade-a-spade/

The editorial pointed out: “The three year delay speaks volumes about the real desire of introducing the Freedom of Information Bill. Secondly, let’s face it, if this piece of legislation is only going to be ignored like so many laws in the book, we wonder  – then – what the exercise is all about: to give us the illusion that all is ok?”

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