FOI needs public involvement

With the implementation of the Freedom of Information Law only a few months away, the appointment of an information commissioner is the most important remaining milestone.

While this person will be appointed by the Governor, it is crucial that the public is involved in and follows this process, for it will be this office that defends informational freedom by taking issue with any department or public agency that fails to comply with the law.

In short, it is the information commissioner who will be championing your freedom of information rights. It is therefore apt that the law allows for public nominations.

However, your involvement should not end with nominating an information commissioner.

I urge you all to take the time to educate yourselves on the provisions and significance of the FOI Law. It is important that you know how to access information, so you can use the law to your or your community’s advantage whenever needed.

Your active involvement is necessary because FOI legislation is fundamentally different from other laws: It is implemented by the people and not by government.

FOI legislation will thus not be enforced by government officials — it is going to be up to you to make FOI work by frequently exercising your right to access government information.

Looking at freedom of information worldwide, it is clear that one of the main goals of this type of legislation is to establish greater public participation in national decision-making. This strengthens democracy and keeps governments honest, but it can only happen if citizens apply the law to find out what their government is doing, how decisions are made, and how money is being spent.

So, while government has been actively driving the process of implementation, it is you, the people, who now have to take it further by putting to the test government’s resolve to be more open.

We all agree that this resolve has the potential to fundamentally change the way people view their civil service and will surely affect the way government goes about its business too. But I believe it is worthwhile to open government up to the people, broadening the understanding of government processes and improving collaboration between the public and the bureaucracy that serves them.

Finally, I want to thank government departments and public agencies and specifically all information managers for their dedication thus far. I know many hours have already been spent on training and records management.

I sincerely hope that all this hard work will pay off and that we all will reap the benefits of open government in the years to come.

D. Kurt Tibbetts

Leader of Government Business