Addressing an anti-corruption forum in the Cayman Islands last week, Prime Minister Perry Christie advised that his government is working on a national anti-corruption action plan which will include, among other elements, a renewed focus on quality leadership and inculcating a sustained political commitment to fight corruption.
Christie also announced that his administration will give “renewed consideration” to “the draft Freedom of Information Act” to allow citizens greater access to government information and to provide them with the tools to keep public administration transparent and accountable.
The act was first introduced in Parliament in October 2011 and a revamped version was passed in the Senate in February 2012.
Not long after coming to office, Christie pledged that he would bring the Freedom of Information Act into force.
“Those matters are under review by the Office of the Attorney General and in this term we are going to bring [it],” he said at the time.
“You know, I argue that we were elected to do big things and therefore I am fully aware as the leader of the Progressive Liberal Party government that we are going to be judged, not on what we say, but on what we do and that from my point of view, we are, as a Cabinet, mandated to do things that sort of look at the next 20 to 30 years.”
In its first two years in office, there is no evidence that freedom of information has been a priority for this administration.
While we are happy to hear that the government will give the matter “renewed consideration”, we will be happier when the government acts in this regard.
We note the careful wording of Christie’s reference to the Freedom of Information Act.
“Renewed consideration” is a vague expression. It does not connote action.
The prime minister should not boast about transparency and accountability when his administration continues to keep that Freedom of Information Act on the shelf.
An important feature of good governance is access to information.
Transparency is essential to fostering trust in governance.
Legislation, of course, will not be enough to change a culture in government that encourages secrecy and a failure by officials to account for their actions and the use of public funds.
For now, the media and the general public continue to be kept in the dark on important national matters.
In his anti-corruption lecture, Christie told his audience that The Bahamas is a country where there is freedom of speech and of the press.
This is largely true, but it would be aided by legislation that provides for true openness in governance.
Christie said, “The media has continued to play an important role in holding both government and public officials accountable. It has done so over the years by exposing corruption through investigative journalism.”
In addition to a Freedom of Information Act, he said his administration will introduce new specific anti-corruption legislation creating an anti-corruption body.
Christie also pledged to strengthen institutional capacity in all the arms and institutions of government, especially improving the judicial procedures to fight corruption.
The prime minister said The Bahamas will likely introduce before year’s end specific legislation dealing with anti-corruption in the form of either a new Prevention of Corruption Act or Integrity in Public Life Act.
This new act will specifically implement the provisions of both the United Nations and Inter-American anti-corruption conventions, and create an Integrity Commission to supervise the administration of the act and oversee the process of public financial declarations.
These are all vital to deepening our democracy and attacking corruption.
But, again, these announcements must materialize.
Too often such statements fade from the headlines and never make it as priority matters for the government.
As an example, the prime minister announced last October that constitutional bills will be introduced in Parliament before the end of 2013, but no such bills have been introduced nearly six months later.
The promised constitutional referendum before the end of June appears set for its third postponement as there have been no signs of the bills or the public education campaign Christie pledged would take place.
We know that Christie’s speeches often sound good.
But when all is said and done, more is often said than done.