The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Enacting the Democratic Right to be Informed – Part I

Openness is fundamental to the political health of a modern state.”

“Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in governance and defective decision-making.” –Information Commission Office, UK

Periodically in this space, over the last month, I have been advancing the thesis that we might enhance our democracy by deepening and broadening the existing right to freedom of expression, principally through the reform of the text and jurisprudence of our defamation laws, and by the creation of a statal guarantee of a right to freedom of information; simply put, the right to know.

Arguably, to a significant extent, we already enjoy some freedom of expression, but that expression becomes more cogent, more democratically vital if the speaker is seized of the facts of the matter under discussion. It reminds me of one of the aspects of the defence of fair comment to a defamation action. The commenter is protected only so long as the comment is based on true or privileged facts. One is not permitted to invent facts, the modern disinformation of fake news, to comment on this fabrication and then simply pray the defence in aid.

In the political sphere, manifesto representations to enlarge the civic freedoms of information and expression also carry great electoral allure. The former Democratic Labour Party administration made such commitments in 2008 and as far as I can recall, the current governing administration has likewise undertaken to enact a local FOI statute.

To be totally fair, I do recall seeing a draft of an FOI Act at sometime during the DLP regime, but I am not aware that this was even put out for public discussion. And as yet, to my best knowledge, the current administration has not prepared a draft of the proposed legislation.

This apparent local difficulty of enactment, whether in the form of the past reluctance or the current delay -although one might be prepared to excuse this latter on the basis of a subjective prioritization-, is difficult to rationalize. Ours is not a jurisdiction reputed for its originality in the drafting of statutes and no fewer than at least four other regional jurisdictions have enacted similar statutes. These are Trinidad & Tobago (1999); Belize (1994); Jamaica (2002); and St Vincent & the Grenadines (2003).

Delay in enactment seems to be a regional norm, however. In a 2017 article entitled “Freedom of Information Acts in the Developing world: Lessons from the Caribbean for the Bahamian experience”, and published in the International Journal of Bahamian Studies Lisa Benjamin writes, “[The] enactment and implementation of FOIAs in the Caribbean has generally been characterized by delay. Bills often languish for many years without being passed, and, even when passed, many Acts are not implemented for some time. For example, in Bermuda, the Public Access to Information Act took over five years to implement. In Grenada, the 2007 Freedom of Information Bill has yet to be enacted, and the 2009 Bill in St Lucia has yet to be made law.”

She also posits a reason for my earlier query concerning local legislative inertia thusly-

FOIAs are designed to induce transparency and the provision of information, but also impose constraints and administrative burdens on governments. [citation]The passage and implementation of a FOIA may involve paradoxical incentives on behalf of governments, leading to benign or purposeful neglect in the implementation of these regimes.

As a matter of public information, the main principle behind the concept of freedom of information is that people have a right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a justifiable and statutorily permitted reason for denying such disclosure. For example, the long title to the i994 Belize Act proclaims it to be “An Act to give to members of the public, rights of access to official documents of the Government and public authorities; to provide for public examination of records relating to Government’s financial, contractual and other transactions; and to provide for matters connected therewith nr incidental thereto. [Emphasis mine]

The stressed words in the policy statement above serves to corroborate the propositions in the epigraphs at the start of this column that openness is a fundamental aspect of political health and, as the UK Information Commission Office [ICO] posits, unnecessary secrecy in government leads to an arrogance (and hubris) that may turn out to be politically and, more important, electorally destructive as relatively recent events might have clearly demonstrated. Administrations must consider whether the ignorance of an electorate is worth the price of political obliteration.

The ICO advises public authorities as follows, “…an applicant (requester) does not need to give you a reason for wanting the information. On the contrary, you must justify refusing them information; and you must treat all requests for information equally, except under some circumstances relating to vexatious requests and personal data. The information someone can get under the Act should not be affected by who they are. You should treat all requesters equally, whether they are journalists, local residents, public authority employees, or foreign researchers.

A most pertinent question in this context is what bodies are made subject to disclosure under the Act? According to section 2 the Jamaica The Access to Information Act 2002 (as amended), these are public authorities include a Ministry, department, Executive Agency or other agency of Government; a statutory body or authority; and, of some interest, any Government company which is wholly owned by the Government or an agency of the Government, or in which the Government holds more than fifty per cent shares…”

To be continued…

15 comments

  • “Ours is not a jurisdiction reputed for its originality in the drafting of statutes .”

    You can repeat that several more times, because as long as that weakness remains, it will continue to be to the detriment of people in Barbados and the Caribbean at large.

    Like

  • Talking Loud Saying Nothing

    “Ours is not a jurisdiction reputed for its originality in the drafting of statutes .”

    Nor will it ever be. Both parties should be declared: “enemies of the state”.

    Jeff, I have declared in Grenville’s latest column that we should abolish all of our political parties.

    Do not expect any movement on the Freedom of Expression from Mia and the BLP.

    Like

  • Jeez… Talking Loud, I was attempting to be optomistic but you threw freezing cold water on that..lol

    Like

  • “Treatment to Cost $32,500 a Year
    GW Pharmaceuticals CEO says the price was set to be in line with other brand-name epilepsy drugs
    By Peter Loftus
    Aug. 8, 2018 4:55 p.m. ET
    GW Pharmaceuticals PLC said it plans to charge about $32,500 per patient annually in the U.S. for its new treatment for rare forms of epilepsy, the first prescription drug derived from the marijuana plant.”

    This is what we were trying to warn politicians who aspired to be allowed in the parliament about, while they dawdle and sit on their hands…fools.

    Like

  • TheophiliusGazerts

    I usually do not comment on Jeff’s post as it requires a little more heavy lifting than I am capable of….

    I will reserve further comments for part 2, which Jeff has whetted my appetite for. I tried looking into the future to see where he could go with this one…

    I will wait

    Good start; submission incomplete

    Like

  • pieceuhderockyeahright

    @ the Luminary Jeff Cumberbatch

    There is another side of this Freedom of Information ENACTMENT that you are commenting on which, being a cantankerous ole fogey, I would seek to advance simultaneously.

    To do so I will resort to this article published this morning at the BBC

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-45237171

    “…Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has signed a new law that tightens controls over the internet.

    The legislation on “cybercrime” means websites can be blocked in Egypt if deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy.

    Anyone found guilty of running, OR JUST VISITING, such sites could face prison or a fine.

    The Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said more than 500 websites had already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law being signed

    Last month another bill was passed by parliament, yet to be approved by President Sisi, that would allow any social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers to be placed under supervision…”

    you are speaking to a subject of full disclosure as it relates to the business of government and the absolute requirement that such information be a staple of good governance of the BLP and any successive state.

    you have expressed the hope that it would be adhered to by the givernment of Is Amor Mottley but this ole man will strongly suggest that it will not follow any such strategy BECAUSE SUCH WOYLD BE CONTRARY TO ITS OWN UNTOWARD MACHINATIONS

    Let me give you an actual case that will support my posit .

    I will claim first that I do not know the particulars of the matter so this is poorly reported speech.

    But I would as you at what time were the Immunities of CARICOM enacted into law? Such is an innocuous point but I have it on good authority that while the British Foreign office provided related notifications under their FOIA the successive administrations of the Government of Barbados have refused to do so for 11 years BECAUSE RELEASE OF SUCH INFORMATION WOULD NOT BE IN THE INTEREST OF THE GOB.

    Now what is my point oh Luminary?

    You have an immature administration led by an equally immature Attorney General who feels that the Law of the Land is his oyster to do with as he wills.

    Then you have a bunch of wild hillbillies who have, by way of a campaign which leveraged the same FREEDOM of speech that you refer to, now in power.

    so there is no doubt that the Freedom of Speech worked to their advantage but you see that Freedom of Information suggestion that you are promoting?

    I respectfully suggest that that is a pipe dream, not necessarily actuated by drugs akin to those that were on the schooner? Ecstasy, but of such a timbre to be considered a hallucination?

    De ole man is watching all these machinations and respectfully suggests that not only will no DO IS NOT BE ENACTED BUT BARBADOS IS GOING TO SEE THE COMING OF AN EGYPT-LIKE REGIME where you will not be able to write seditious content like this information here

    But it is time to eat so my hunger induces stupid talk so I beg your forbearance

    Liked by 1 person

  • pieceuhderockyeahright

    @the Honourable Blogmaster your assistance please with an item for the Luminary Jeff Cumberbatch

    Like

  • Why am I not reading this in a Barbados newspaper…it’s a Caribbean newspaper carrying this story. Michael Carrington should be arrested for theft.

    “Toppin, the current minister holding responsibility for BIDC in the new government revealed in parliament Tuesday that Carrington, an attorney and ex-speaker of that law-making body, had charged BIDC $353,225 for consultation on sale of a property valued at $16 million.

    But Toppin said that the established rate for legal fees on a transaction of this value is $161,250, and hinted that the state-owned company was pressured into making the abnormally high payment to a then member of parliament who was part of the government of the time.

    This information of an official of a government over-charging a state agency which it was elected to protect comes against the backdrop of a recent Barbados government document stating that BIDC, which was established to increase exports and employment through investment, has an outstanding debt of $19 million and accumulated arrears of $10.7 million.

    The state corporation has had $$5.315 million approved in funding for the 2018-19 budget year.

    News of the corruption charge against a minister in a former Barbados government and the apparent fleecing of this state entity comes weeks after attorney general of the new administration, Dale Marshall, warned of an intention to pursue and prosecute public officials suspected of corruption as far up the ladder as former government ministers.”

    Liked by 1 person

  • pieceuhderockyeahright

    @ WARU aka WW&C

    As sure as day follows night you are going to be reading of the prosecutions soon

    Like

  • Piece…I better..that is the only way to shut me up, Mia should know by now that even though she gets some criticism, we have her back to a degree and she should respect and appreciate that and make sure her ministers do their jobs so that the taxpayers and pensioners who have have been ripped of by their own former ministers and others in the private sector….pay for their crimes against the people. .

    ……wuh it’s Caribbean newspapers following up on this criminal activity better than local papers on the island.

    Like

  • pieceuhderockyeahright

    @ WARU

    You said and I quote “………wuh it’s Caribbean newspapers following up on this criminal activity better than local papers on the island…”

    Heheheheh

    This is the new modus operandi that wise people who wish to be heard MUST FOLLOW.

    The Nation & Advocate newspapers charge $10,000 for a full page advertisement.

    De ole man can print 50 Stoopid Campaigns and upload them to multiple websites and engage a Twilio unlimited SMS account to disseminate that campaign to the Barbados cell phone population & the whatsapp population and the world in 1 hour for that money.

    This is why Adriel Nitwit and Teets Marshall want to ban these social networks and why Teets and Hinkson wukking overnight on closing down Barbados Underground

    Like

  • According to Artax the matter was reported in the Nation report. In fact BU captured his comment in the blog below.

    Like

  • That must have been a short mention, something as serious as a minister of government and lawyer doubling legal fees for a state entity to pay him to enrich himself should have been a big story. ..the newspapers should highlight it at every turn.

    http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/187510/bradshaw-reveals-breast-cancer

    Hope Santia recovers soon.

    “Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw has announced a short leave of absence as a result of a cancerous lump in her breast.

    From The Archives: Tribute to Marshall…
    The revelation from the Member of Parliament for St Michael South East came tonight during a constituency meeting at the Parkinson Resource Centre.

    She said the cancer was diagnosed in the early stages and it is treatable.”

    Liked by 1 person

  • Piece Uh De Rock Yeah Right

    @ The Luminary Mr. Jeff Cumberbatch

    Do not let it be said that the ole man has sent the dean a reading list but I would humble offer the following three sites for you to peruse and possible see how they might be “incorporated” in your submissions SHOULD YOU BE WILLING TO ENTERTAIN THE SEDITIOUS THOUGHTS O THE OLE MAN.

    https://darkwebnews.com/anonymity-tools/tor/italy-agency-embraces-onion-services/

    “The Italian Anti-Corruption Authority, a national administrative watchdog, has officially launched a national whistleblowing forum using Tor onion services.

    This has been seen as a big move by many. It is geared toward encouraging whistleblowers to expose corruption cases, which are on the rise in Italy among other illegal activities.”

    https://securedrop.org/

    and https://www.globaleaks.org/

    The point that I am hinting at is that, IN THE FACE OF A CULTURE OF DE PO BLACK MAN being abused and unfaired in our so called just and fair society IT BECOMES A NO BRAINER that some of us HAVE TO prosecute these darkweb-like activities just to remain sane.

    Observe the rampant proliferation of nom de plumes here on Barbados Underground.

    Barring the DRIVEL that is submitted by some of us wannabee literati you can see some brilliant minds here assembled who make some serious points.

    But why is it that they cant use their real names?

    The Darkweb article states in part “…In countries with an oppressive and restrictive government, Tor anonymity has allowed citizens and activists to speak out boldly against restrictive, unfair and cruel leadership…”

    The question one might ask is does such “restrictive, unfair and cruel leadership” obtains where we are that it necessitates this defense from the shadows?

    And I put it to you that it does, and such is the degree of unfairness that men and women prowl about in the dark web of the BU rumshop and snipe at those persons that they otherwise cannot speak to NOR OF!!!.

    For fear of retribution because these are the demigods of Barbados

    Do you think that some of these “shadows of men” enjoy this cloak of anonymity?

    No but answer me then this riddle.

    Would the Stoopid Cartoon Not One Effing Seat have had the potency of impact as under one’s real name or under the nom De Plume?

    Some, like Carl Moore?, would say yes it would have, and cite the various reasons.

    But I put this to you that it would not have BECAUSE THE POWERS THAT (WERE) BE (& ARE) WOULD HAVE USED SAID SAME MECHANISMS OF UNFAIRNESS, RESTRICTION AND CRUELTY to bear upon said citizen, in the light of day.

    And I put it to you that what you speak to, and promote is at variance to Darkwebs and the sole recourse that we the poor have against the very laws that surround us.

    THe laws of which you speak DO NOT HAVE THE EFFICACY OF THE DARKWEB and CANNOT ACHIEVE that summit where we can be, BUT ARE NOT.

    I asked you in 2 different blogs here on BU if, I as a citizen, were to want to bring a matter against the Government of Barbados as it relates to the matter of Charles Jong and the Unconstitutionality of his appointment especially when I know him to be a spy against the people of Barbados, I asked if you would defend my case.

    Twice has it been that you have not answered that question fairly posed.

    Which brings the rhetorical query dear Luminary, do you fear the unfairness, the silent restriction and the subcutaneous “cruelty” that manifests itself but jobs denied, opportunities subverted and their version of the brotherhood of the rose that keeps EVEN YOU LUMINARY OUT of their Sanctum Sanctorum?

    But soft awhile de ole man must go hence to another blog and wreak other drivellous conspiracies

    Like

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