There is still no clear timeline for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act in Barbados.
But addressing journalists at the Barbados Association of Journalists and Media Workers’ (BARJAM) Media Awards of Excellence over the weekend, Attorney General Dale Marshall said Government was still committed to passing the legislation the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) promised before gaining power.
Marshall quoted from the BLP’s 2018 manifesto, in which the party pledged to restore Barbados’ reputation for fairness and transparency and to pursue genuine transformation by, among other things, introducing a Freedom of Information Act. He said the Government was still committed to doing so.
“I give you the assurance that this is no mere promise made to whet the appetite of the electorate and to garner as many votes as possible. It is a commitment that we will honour because we understand from the decade that we spent in Opposition, the importance of shining the spotlight on the excesses of Government. But no sunshine will reach those dark recesses unless the public has free access to information,” he said.
Marshall noted that what was preventing passage of this legislation were “several practical issues that have to be grappled with, for example, the manpower resources that will be required to provide meaningful access to information. Meaningful access includes timeliness of delivery of the information and completeness of the record”.
He referred to the system in the United Kingdom where the public authority must comply with the request for information within 20 days and the person receiving the information must also be able to verify that what is provided is complete and accurate.
“Reflect for a moment on how our public service is set up and operates and you will begin to recognise the magnitude of the undertaking,” Marshall said.
However, he said Government was moving ahead to become more transparent in the interim.
“We are already implementing a number of initiatives that will offer a spill-off of facilitating meaningful access, and perhaps the most far-reaching of these is the digitising of the records of the public service,” he added.
Marshall sought to allay any fear of Government bypassing the standard procurement processes as it tries in earnest to stimulate the economy in the absence of the Freedom of Information legislation. He said the Government will lay all contracts in Parliament.
“Being mindful of our responsibility to account to the public for how we spend taxpayers’ dollars, and mindful of our commitment to transparency, the Prime Minister has given the assurance from the floor of Parliament that the contracts entered into will be published in Parliament,” he added.
In response, BARJAM president Emmanuel Joseph told Barbados TODAY: The last conversation we had, he [AG] told me that [Freedom of information Bill 2008 draft] is something he would have to look at.”
Joseph said while he understood “it isn’t something that can be rushed”, he wanted some urgency to be given to it to ensure it is not “put on the back burner”.