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Enabling citizens to ‘make a difference’

There's a statement on the Bermuda Government website, gov.bm, where people can sign up to serve on a government board or committee and it is: “You can make a difference in your community.”

It's a statement that pretty much summarises what the One Bermuda Alliance government is trying to achieve with our better governance measures — opening up the system so that citizens can “make a difference”.

By opening the system to greater citizen participation and enabling greater access to government information, we can strengthen performance, accountability and transparency throughout.

It's a step-by-step process that we believe will change the relationship between government and citizens for the better, making the former more beholden to the latter.

Many of the things we're doing are being done for the first time. The new application process for government boards and committees is one example. In the past, it was a system that was much more about who you knew than what you knew.

With the online formal application process that's just gone live, we are creating the opportunity for participation that is more representative and reflective of the people whom government work is supposed to benefit, and for policies and decisions more in tune with their needs and aspirations.

We've therefore taken particular attention to encourage more women to sign up because, historically, they have been underrepresented on boards and committees. A snapshot survey indicates that women make up less than 35 per cent of all existing board members.

There are many other ways to open Bermuda's system of governance, big and small.

In another first, shortly after I became Premier, we started publicising the cost of all official trips by government ministers. These figures are posted on the government website after each trip and they serve to keep people informed how their money is being spent.

Some may see that as a small step in opening up our government, but its importance lies in that it requires government ministers to report back to the people. Big and small, it all adds up.

A bigger step towards more open, accountable government is the implementation of Pati bringing a freedom-of-information regime to Bermuda for the first time.

Last Friday, we put forward amendments to the Pati legislation that would reduce the response time for public authorities to provide information.

The Pati initiative, which the Progressive Labour Party government failed to implement despite years of promises, may well revolutionise the relationship between citizen and government, anchoring it to principles of accountability and transparency. Access to information will certainly help businesses to plan, students to study and journalists to report. Another initiative that lay dormant for many years under the PLP government was the introduction of a new ministerial code of conduct. All OBA ministers have signed this document, which stipulates conduct that meets the highest standards of good governance.

Our aim in these and other initiatives is simple: the Government of Bermuda should be as open and forthcoming as possible, making sure people have the means to hold their representatives to account.

It's the best way to proceed with the people's business and the best way to ensure that the people are the difference in our community.

• Michael Dunkley is also the Minister of National Security and MP for Smith's North (Constituency 10)

New initiative: Michael Dunkley, the Premier, has outlined how the public can get involved (File photograph)

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Published December 02, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 02, 2015 at 1:06 am)

Enabling citizens to ‘make a difference’

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