While the V.I. Freedom of Information Coalition lost momentum after getting off the ground in 2007, a core group of activists is resuscitating the territorial drive to ensure governmental transparency.
“Freedom of information is the root of everything,” said Bonny Corbeil, a St. John activist and vice president-elect of VI FOIC. “It is the cornerstone of democracy. Transparency and openness in government is the very basis of democracy and who needs it more than the Virgin Islands?”
Originally launched by local journalists frustrated with closed doors and denials to public documents, the VI FOIC enjoyed a surge of support when it first got off the ground, but went by the wayside shortly thereafter, explained Corbeil.
“Everyone who was involved was very busy and things just got bogged down a bit,” she said. “Things kind of fizzled out but I never put the torch down. I still have the fire in my belly.”
With more citizens taking proactive roles in organizations like Crime Stoppers VI and weighing in on the doomed proposed V.I. Constitution, it is the perfect time to rejuvenate the group, Corbeil explained.
“Through Roger W. Morgan’s radio show and my involvement, I kept saying, ‘we have this FOIC and it’s so important, we need to regroup,’” she said. “Consequently I’m taking the spearhead here. It’s little St. John leading the charge and that makes sense.”
“We have things the worst over here,” said Corbeil. “We know the least about what’s going on and the least about what the government is doing.”
The group’s main focus is to change the V.I. Sunshine Act by getting rid of the many loopholes which often make the act ineffectual.
“This is about changing the law and having a more open and transparent democracy,” said Corbeil.
To that end, Corbeil recently posed the question of reforming the Sunshine Act to several senators, she explained.
“I asked Senator Craig Barshinger and Senate President Louis Hill on Roger Morgan’s show what they think of our present Sunshine Act and if they support stronger freedom of information laws,” said Corbeil. “Both senators said they support transparency in government. Barshinger said everything in the Virgin Islands is a secret unless someone thinks you should know it. And that is exactly the problem.”
“Hill agreed that there are a lot of holes in the Sunshine Act and that transparency is needed,” Corbeil said.
If the territory had a strong Sunshine Act, it would be obvious in many ways, explained Corbeil.
For example, concerns surrounding controversial developments and accounting practices would be out in the open, she explained.
“Think about Sirenusa,” Corbeil said. “If were we allowed into a lot of those meetings, we would have been able to follow what happened there. Think of all the money no one knows what happens to.”
“We need access to transcripts about everything that is going on in a timely manner,” she said.
One of the major obstacles to information access is the infrastructure, according to Corbeil.
“The whole system in inefficient,” she said. “We need to streamline the process and the press and public must have access to this information.”
Corbeil recently organized the group’s files and have recruited several citizens to take leading roles in the newly reorganized VI FOIC. Judge Thomas Moore is the president-elect, Corbeil is the vice president and Paul
Devine is the secretary-elect. The group is still looking for more members and hope to attract residents from across the territory.
“This is a territory-wide movement,” said Corbeil. “We really want participation on all three islands and we plan to have conference calls so everyone can take part in our meetings.”
The group will have its annual meeting on Monday, June 29, at Ocean Grill.
“VI FOIC is walking the walk,” said Corbeil. “We are open at every meeting for anyone to come at any time.”
For more information about VI FOIC call Devine at 514-6615.