Since 2011 the Virgin Islands have been told that a Freedom of Information Act was going to become a reality. However, last Summer, our Premier admitted that the bill is still in the pipeline. In his 2013 Report, Complaints Commissioner Elton Georges noted that a Freedom of Information regime could be beneficial to the work of his Commission and, best of all, it would allow individuals and the press access to much information held in Government files.
In the 2013 Speech from the Throne the BVI Government reassured us that it would introduce the long-awaited Freedom of Information legislation. According to the Speech, the local Government “believes that a framework for accessing information by the public is imperative for good governance and transparency”. To believe that a piece of legislation would miraculously produce transparency and good governance, let alone effectively implement such pre-requisites of civilised democracy, it would be naive on the part of the public and the media. It would have to be consistently and effectively enforced to perform such wonders.
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?
By now, the public knows that the media has been having a rough time in obtaining information from ministries and government agencies and departments; and even when there is debate in the House Of Assembly, or questions are asked at press conferences, in quite a few cases they are answered selectively and/or obliquely, and when the journalist asks more pointed questions, they are not answered in full or just eluded. If that is transparency, freedom of the press and freedom of information we leave it to the public to decide.
On our part, this newspaper is greatly dissatisfied with a situation that has become like gangrene and has given carte blanche to those who just do not answer questions. This malaise has to end to reassure us that transparency and freedom of information have a true meaning in the BVI.
This newspaper, and decidedly the BVI media as a whole will become more active in exposing lack of transparency and tactics aimed at eluding requests of information. Such transgressions can be reported to London, they can be debated in the UK Parliament, and the United Nations and regional and international media organisations are always eager to be updated about such topics. If that happens, it will give an image of the Virgin Islands that will be more accurate, but less inviting, nevertheless it will be honest to the truth! Facts speak louder than words; legislation delayed is legislation denied; legislation that is not implemented gives law-breakers power.