Responsible, accountable, and transparent governance is a central challenge for societies seeking to provide equal opportunity and socioeconomic stability for their citizens. International organizations such as the United Nations, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, The International Monetary Fund and The World Bank all stress the importance of good governance as the underpinning for broad prosperity and sustainable development.
Governance is the process of decision-making in a society and how those decisions are implemented. In a liberal democracy as The Bahamas aspires to be, Good Governance encompasses key values such as transparency, accountability, rule of law, respect for human rights, efficiency, equality and participation.
Ideally, these processes originate and operate in three arms of society: government, the private sector and civil society. Partnership and collaboration between these sectors is critical to ensure the proper integration and management of a modern society, from top to bottom.
The benefits of accountable governance are clear. Countries that observe better governance see better economic performance, espouse greater confidence and trust from the populace, engender greater equality, experience less corruption and better achieve short and long term national goals.
By contrast, the core problems facing the Bahamas - crime, poor education, unemployment, and a flagging economy amongst others - stem from a systemic breakdown in governance in the country.
The Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) empowers civil society and introduces key policy and legislation to ensure the actions of the country’s leadership are subject to oversight and serve the best interests of the Bahamian people. Through our Accountable Governance sub-committee – a topical think tank with members from civil society, the private sector, academia, and political leadership - we work to create inter-sector dialogue on courses of action to promote better governance. Through public education we drive participation from all levels of society in the decision-making process to create positive change that is in the public interest.
With input from the Accountable Governance sub-committee ORG identified several policy and programming objectives crucial to achieving better governance: enacting a Freedom of Information Act, Introducing Whistleblower and Ombudsman Legislation, enforcing the Public Disclosures Act, establishing a public consultation process for legislation, and creating a candidate questionnaire to encourage informed voting.
The cornerstone of a free, fair, and functioning democracy rests on a well-informed electorate. It is key that voters make educated choices bolstered by a clear understanding of candidates’ views on issues affecting the nation. To assist voters in their assessment of candidates ORG developed a candidate questionnaire, a platform where aspiring representatives’ views and policies can be easily and accurately communicated. Candidate’s answers are tabulated by constituency to aid in comparison.
The candidates’ answers also serve as a platform. In the event of their election, ORG will monitor how well representatives meet their promises and voters can easily refer back to their policies for the duration of their term and hold them accountable.
Freedom of Information
Freedom of Information, the people’s right to know the factors affecting the decisions and processes of government, is subset of freedom of speech – a fundamental right. Recognizing that transparency in governance begins with this right, The Organization for Responsible Governance collaborated with a group of 21 other civil society and private industry groups to advocate for a true, fair Freedom of Information Act. This advocacy resulted in a more open consultation process, the amendment of seven articles within the proposed bill, and ultimately the passage of the bill through both Houses of Parliament. ORG continues to advocate for enactment and enforcement of Freedom of Information and public education on the bill.
Through involvement in advocacy for Freedom of Information and the call for the halt of the Interception of Communication bill, it became clear to ORG and it’s partners that there is a significant opportunity to strengthen the democracy of The Bahamas and improve effectiveness of policy-making by adopting a standardized open process of public consultation.
Public consultation is recognized as an important part of the policy-making process and used to provide private industry, civil society and the people a chance to provide input in the work of government. Engaging the citizenry in consultation on legislation has been shown to increase accountability, create better policy and reduce the cost of implementation by developing buy-in.
However legislation and policy-making in Bahamas continue to be a largely unilateral process. ORG, with the support of 15 civil society partners has developed a proposal for a standardized public consultation process and is working with the Office of the Attorney General to bring it into protocol.
Whistleblower and Ombudsman Acts
The Bahamas is notoriously lacking legislation to effectively counteract corruption and malfeasance within the leadership and administration of the country. A Whistleblowers Act and Ombudsman Act are two crucial steps to introduce anti-corruption infrastructure to Bahamian Governance. A Whistleblowers Act would protect individuals who chose to report misconduct within the ranks of government and its institutions. An Ombudsman would provide an independent, impartial authority to investigate complaints and enforce anti-corruption laws. ORG believes that with the implementation and enforcement of these two acts Bahamas can make a significant start in fighting over 40 years of entrenched cronyism and other systemically corrupt practices.