[UPDATE] Barbadian Gov’t Minister accepts importance of blogs to Local Democracy – Bajan Blogger suggests Internet to get more for Town Hall mtg’s!
CAVEAT: NEWThis FOI) legislation is not only crucially important for the mainstream media but bloggers as well, this is why I deliberately have let this item continue until Monday – since the dead-tree and online versions of the Advocate & Nation have failed to provide adequate coverage on the first Town Hall meeting of a vital situation which, if handled correctly, could see Barbados moving towards true democracy! (
I was hoping at least to see Chris Halsall at the Town Hall – no such luck, but I was prepared in case no blogger decided to show up and state their beliefs as to what should and should not happen? I used and cited all relevant data from the blogs. I would like at this point to freely acknowledge and thank everyone profusely for their unwitting assistance! First & foremost – Barbados Free Press, B’dos Underground, Hants, Tell Me Why, Adrian Hinds, etc. and yes, even the evil spammer for making me realise if I do not stand then who will, and when no one is left to stand, who will stand for me?DISCOURSE
This session was too poorly attended, if there were 30 it was a lot, mostly Government Officials like Senator Damien Griffith, Minister Donville Inniss, and so forth… In order to make sure things operated from a level playing field, I emphasised I came fwd as a private citizen (Everything was recorded, so I made sure that went on the record).
The committee had the following members – Senator Orlando Marville; Perm. Scty. in PM’s Office, Capt Randolph Straughn; Attorney Monique Taitt; Anglican Dean the Very Rev. Frank Marshall; Fmr. Central Bank Gov. Calvin Springer and Minister in the PM’s Office, Senator Maxine McClean – no journalists were included in this panel nor did any current or practicing journalists appear so as to offer any insight (Hallam Hope, Carl Moore and self are all erstwhile practitioners of this trade but nobody like David Ellis or Albert Branford were present)! The only journalists present were young reporters to cover the event.
Senator Maxine McClean stated at the Town Hall meeting at Combermere school last night that blogs have their place in establishing limits of a democracy. The Minister also sees the Town Hall sessions as a chance for Government to give back to voters the the tools to make the country serve Barbadians better and she just wants the people to not only realise that but to act on it as well.
Her comments came during the first Town Hall meeting on the Freedom of Information Bill held at Combermere Secondary’s school assembly last night. She was attempting to encourage and allay the fears of former journalist and ex-Central Bank PR Officer, Carl Moore.
He stated that he has seen similar meetings under the previous regime and when they too had, he is now wasting 90 MB’s on his hard drive still waiting to see Nat’l Reconstruction. Mr Moore sees the need for all Barbadians to be re-educated as to the significance that News and Information can do for any population – with the status of Barbados as it is right now – in his view – the small meeting and PDF are recorded for naught.
The co-founder of the Nation newspaper (referring to sections 31 & 32 of the Bill) thinks that if a Minister can exempt a paper from Public Scrutiny then there has to be an automatic deadline of 30 to 50 years as in certain documents from England & USA. In Moore’s way of thinking, the local Civil Service feels NOTHING should happen at any time as “WHAT IF?” raises too many difficulties for them to answer and may actually cause them to not only work but seek answers they do not want.
He also wanted to know if the idea of Barbados becoming a Republic is mooted, and Senator Marville told Mr Moore that topic would fall under a different revue.
Hallam Hope of the Barbados Consumer Watch sees as double work in terms of the Fair Trading Commission – in his opinion, the FTC must be an organisation of TRANSPARENCY. Mr Hope cited an incident when he went to the FTC to gain statistics and was told that’s confidential, yet if even if there’s an FOI Act as opposed to Bill, with Information Officers and staff then this would lead to further bureaucracy.
When I came fwd to the panel, I was probably their longest contributor – I stated Oct 31 is a ridiculous deadline for written submissions considering the last Town Hall is Nov 5; I noted the lack of an Ombudsman; If the Private Sector is bound by the FOI; The lack of Part 2 of Clause 17; the need for a Data Protection Act as opposed to the Bill from 2005 – because this could potentially compromise a person who is HIV-Positive; How can the PM remove Info Commissioner if the person is to be an independent body; How does the Official Secrets Act relate to FOI and which takes precedence – phew! I added that FOI is really Part 5 in my view and more importantly Part 1 is Freedom of Expression and/or revision of Defamation/Libel Laws.
Senator Marville assured myself and the audience that an Ombudsman is being sought, in addition they are also looking to have a Contractor General to deal with all tenders from Government, he stated there are also plans to review the scope of the PM’s powers and put that in relation to ITAL/Integrity, Transparency and Accountability Legislation – the Senator re-emphasised FOI Bill is only a draft and not carved in stone.
He added the Oct 31 deadline is under review and an extension will be announced shortly, and all personal privacy as it relates to medical records will be enforced. The Senator also stated the PM & both sides of Parliament can remove the Information Officer, and the Private Sector is bound to FOI only insofar as if they were contracted by Gov’t to do work and kept statistical figures, otherwise separate legislation is required for them to release data.
Former Barbados Representative to the UN, Besley Maycock, also came forward to ask essentially if the Information Officer is a figurehead or will he have merit? He also asked under Minister is satisfied why a record should be exempt if his/her Ministry is also exempt from the Ombudsman?if a
Senator Marville stated with a new Ombudsman, his powers are to be similar to a Judge or Auditor General, except that can redress issues and take measures. As to a member of the public objecting to the Minister/ Ministry/ Ombudsman’s exemption, he added you can take a FOI matter all the way to High Court if you so choose.
Then a young civilian came fwd by name of Andrew Brathwaite who wanted to know how long are documents exempt, his concern is that any document can be submitted to Cabinet and thus made exempt. He stated this is not the case in FOI’s from other countries and it would be better to state prepared specifically to submit to Cabinet.
Mr Brathwaite believes the missingrelates to this matter especially.
There are four other Town Halls between now and Nov 5 and more than likely I shall attend another… In my final submission that night, I offered there can be other ways to secure better attendance – I stated that I am glad Senator McClean acknowledges the importance of same blogs, but use not only the blogs (There were a couple of frowns when I said Cranston could update ) there’s also with word of the Town HallsFacebook, MySpace, Hi5 or The-Trident from here in Barbados, many promoters now skip paying an ad in the paper and go direct to Net.