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Govt must bring focus to legislative agenda

When members of Parliament returned from their six-week summer recess two weeks ago, they had an abbreviated sitting to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II upon her passing.

They then broke for another two weeks, presumably because the prime minister and other members traveled to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

When parliamentarians met yesterday, Prime Minister Philip Davis and several ministers made communications touting the Davis administration’s first year in office.

MPs then broke early in the day until next week.

We hope that after their lengthy parliamentary break, they will finally be ready to refocus their legislative agenda and also begin tabling important audits, like ones from the auditor general.

We hope to soon receive the audit of the National Food Distribution Task Force and audits of various Bahamian embassies expected from the auditor general. We are also awaiting the long-promised audit into the Disaster Reconstruction Authority.

This week, noted civil society group the Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) identified key policy options and initiatives it hopes the government will prioritize.

These are in line with our own observations.

They include full enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which was passed in 2017. While the Minnis administration appointed an information commissioner 16 months ago, members of the public still cannot begin to access public information under the law. We are told the infrastructure and pilot program are still being set up.

It is simply unacceptable that more than five years after the legislation was passed, transparency is still not the order of the day.

ORG importantly pointed to the Public Procurement Act, which the Davis administration initially said it will amend.

But in August, Attorney General Ryan Pinder said the government has determined that after taking an in-depth look at the legislation — passed last year under the Minnis administration — “we figured a full rewrite of that legislation was necessary in order to provide more transparency but ease of administration and ability to govern effectively on that bill…”

Interestingly, while the attorney general has committed to a full “rewrite of the legislation”, which came into force last September but has been largely ignored by the Davis administration, the Ministry of Finance last week announced the launch of its “new and improved” eProcurement portal “to allow the government to fulfill its commitment of transparency and ease of access to procurement opportunities as required under the Public Procurement Act, 2021”.

The Progressive Liberal Party has also promised an overhaul of the 1976 Public Disclosure Act, but there is no indication this will receive priority treatment by the Davis administration.

When he provided reporters with an update last month on the government’s legislative focus, the attorney general said legislation to ensure gender equality in citizenship will be a priority item.

This has already generated controversy even though no bill has yet been released for consultation. The debate in Parliament and in the public arena will be something to follow.

As priorities go, Pinder said the government will also lay a National Investments Fund Bill in Parliament to create a national infrastructure fund to develop infrastructure across the country using public-private partnerships.

The government also hopes to bring a Mining Act to establish a regulatory framework for the mining of natural resources.

Pinder also pledged amendments to the Environmental Planning and Protection Act, which will be two-fold and will increase fines issued by the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) for environmental violation.

The attorney general has also said the government is moving forward with another of its campaign pledges to “develop a comprehensive regulatory framework for growing, harvesting and exporting cannabis”. At last report, the intention was to bring the Cannabis Bill by the end of this year.

There is widespread support for the legalization of medicinal cannabis, but any move to legalization of recreational use, no matter how small the quantity, would be dicey.

The government has recently started consultations on amendments to the Sexual Offences Act, which would criminalize marital rape. Whether it moves ahead with that controversial bill any time soon remains to be seen.

From all we have been told, the Davis administration has a number of consequential bills in the pipeline, but it appears to be buying more time before rolling out these legislative commitments.

It is time to get to work in earnest to move the parliamentary agenda along.