“Information is the currency of democracy,” an Opposition – Virgin Islands Party (VIP) sponsored public service announcement blared this week in a call for Freedom of Information legislation to be introduced in the Territory.
The need for a Freedom of Information legislation has been a hammered subject for more than a decade and now for the first time the issue has elevated to become a main campaign promise as the Territory gears up for elections 2019.
The spotlight for such a crucial Bill to be taken to the House of Assembly has been shone by previous Governors, the media and even various segments of the community; all it seems to no avail.
Based on the fact that even members of House of Assembly in recent months mentioned the need for such legislation gave hope that a more definitive announcement of when the Bill was going to be taken to the House of Assembly was going to be made in the 13 September Speech from the Throne.
This expectation was crystalized by the fact that weeks prior to the speech His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert announced that he noted that the Freedom of Information Bill was one of the most repeated promises in Speeches from the Throne and he said that he wanted to see this changed.
Freedom delayed is Freedom denied
However, on Thursday the Governor did not provide a firm announcement of when the Bill was actually going to the House of Assembly. Instead, Governor Jaspert said: “Our Government will seek to include the Freedom of Information Bill which will guide how people can access public records and it will outline the exempted categories.”
“This piece of legislation will allow for increased transparency and accountability of public affairs. The Bill includes recommendations for the establishment of a Freedom of Information Unit to provide the public with the appropriate administrative mechanism to make and receive requests,” the Governor added.
Even Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith could not say with some certainty that the Bill will be heading to the House of Assembly during this legislative session.
In fact, when reporters asked during the most recent One on One press briefing Hon. Smith said that work is ongoing on the Freedom of Information legislation: “That is a Bill that is in the making that it is being developed so it is not ready to be taken to the House of Assembly at this point. It is something that we are working on.”
“I cannot give you a time, but all that I can tell you is that we’re working on it and as soon as we have it complete and passed by Cabinet it will be taken to the House of Assembly. Chances are that it won’t be,” the Premier added.