The FNM’s is commited to the empowerment of people we have a proven track record in deepening democracy at a community level. We have demonstrated this by implementing Local Government, by having opened the airwaves by allowing private radio and television broadcasting, and by the implementation of an effective system of School Boards in schools throughout New Providence and Grand Bahama.
Of the 34 public libraries in New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands, only 4 libraries in New Providence and a handful in the Family Islands are presently run by a Board of Trustees. These few “Board Libraries” are known to be better run, to be more efficient, and to have more vigorous outreach programmes aimed at attracting the wider community, students and members of the general public to take advantage of the many and varied services which can be offered by an effective public library.
At its core this Bill seeks to harmonize the system of public libraries and to provide a centralized Authority which will encourage standardized services and new technology in every public library, while re-invigorating the primary function of libraries to be places of learning for the general public. However, it is important that at the same time we take the opportunity to encourage and enshrine in the Law a greater degree of local ownership, control and influence over day-to-day decision-making in each public library.
Under the first FNM Government there was an explosive growth in the number of public libraries built by any government over such a short period of time. Six (6) major state-of-the-art public libraries were opened between 1992 and 2002; a record of achievement that is unmatched by any other government.
At the time that he opened the Kemp Road Public Library, Prime Minister Ingraham said: “We have placed this library in this location to empower members of this community to give them the information that can transform their lives.” These words encapsulate and express the enormous power of a public library to provide a means to combat illiteracy and ignorance and to give ordinary people the tools which can help them to improve their lives. The essential quality reflected in the emplacement of the public library in the very heart of the community is accessibility.
It is very important that a public library be accessible and inviting to the community whose participation and support is so vital to the functional success of each library.
Today there are eleven (11) public libraries in New Providence and twenty-three (23) public libraries throughout the Family Islands.
The time has now come to establish a new legal framework for the operation and control of public libraries.
Public libraries are governed by two old Acts. One Act having been passed in 1847, the other in 1909, it is clear that the law needs to be updated.
Further the “Nassau” Act only contemplated or referred to the single library which existed at the time of its passage in 1847. No law passed by any Parliament of The Bahamas from that time to this has even acknowledged the existence of any of the other libraries opened in New Providence; now more than ten (10).
Additionally, Madam President, under the current laws, each public library is a stand-alone institution, without the ability to share resources and without the policy framework which could forge a more focused presentation of integrated and standardized literacy services as part of a National Library system.
Today, rather than focusing upon the building of a structure called a national library the emphasis is upon improving the services that a National Library System can offer to our people throughout the length and breadth of our country.
That being said, I am pleased to recall that even as we speak the College of The Bahamas is in the midst of the construction of a new, world class, library, the Harry C. Moore Library, which will cost more than $22 million dollars to complete. This library will not only be a repository of books, but will also be what most of our public libraries already are, community centres of learning, internet access, homework centres, and study halls for research and literacy instruction.
The Bill being debated today will repeal the antiquated laws which presently govern our national public library system.
By section 3 of the Bill a National Library and Information Services Authority is constituted as a body corporate with its own corporate personality and common seal, with the functions of establishing and maintaining the system of public or “branch libraries and service points” so as to enable persons to have access to information, to advise the Minister, to collect a minimum of 2 copies of the “nation’s literary and cultural heritage”, to coordinate information between individual libraries, resource sharing, web-indexing. prepare indexes and catalogues, to centralize purchasing and procurement for the benefit of all libraries in the system, promote literacy, provide access to technological and informational resources to the general public, and to make arrangements to train and evaluate all library staff, to prepare a national database, index and bibliography, promote literacy, access by the disabled and to preserve and promote the national heritage information of The Bahamas; among other things.
The Authority has wide powers under section 5 of the Bill to do all things necessary to perform its functions such as to buy vehicles, land or buildings, to sell the same, to receive gifts (subject to the approval of the Minister) and to buy or borrow library materials, among other things.
It is envisaged that the Authority will be able to provide greater focus in addressing that day-to-day operations of every public library, so that they might have proper levels of staffing, and proper training of all staff, so that simple but irritating things such as ensuring that there is adequate security and adequate external lighting are maintained such that libraries will not have to close early during the winter months due to safety concerns.
The management, control and administration of the Authority is vested by section 8 of the Bill in a Board of Directors called the National Library and Information Services Authority Board of Directors.
The structure and function of the Board of Directors is set forth in the First Schedule of the Act. The Board is composed of the Chairman, appointed by the Minister and between six (6) and nine (9) members appointed by the Minister after consulting with the Chairman as set forth in paragraph 1 (3) of the Schedule. Members will hold office for 3 years. The Board must meet at least once every 3 months.
An ex-officio Member of the Board shall be the Director of the Authority, who is the technical officer charged with the day to day running of the Authority, and who will also function as the Secretary to the Board. The Director, under section 13 of the bill must have had 5 or more years’ experience in library and information services, and is appointed by the Minister after consultation with the Board.
One of the principal functions of the Board is, under the provisions of section 10 of the Bill, is to appoint a Local Library Committee for each one of its Branch libraries. The members of the Local Library Committee must be a total of up to five (5) “local residents of the area served by the branch library”; three (3) of whom are appointed by the Board and two (2) of whom can be elected locally.
It should be noted that the Bill speaks of “residents” rather than limiting membership to citizens. This is in recognition of the fact that many of our public libraries receive their most effective, sustained and committed support from “Winter residents” particularly in some Family Islands.
The Local Library Committee has power under the provisions of the Second Schedule of the Act to open and maintain bank accounts, to receive money from the central government, to hire support staff (subject to confirmation of the Board) to dismiss all support staff, to maintain, manage and operate the Branch Library and to report its activities to the Board annually and, importantly, to encourage the establishment of “Friends of the Library” Associations and, thereby, to enlist the support of the wider community for the activities and functions of the local Branch library.
Members of the Local library Committee will hold office for three (3) years, may be re-appointed or elected, but will forfeit the office if they become bankrupt, mentally or physically incapable, resign or are absent without leave from 4 of 6 meetings of the Committee.
These Committees will, essentially, perform all of the functions being performed by Boards of Trustees in those fortunate libraries which currently are run by a Board of Trustees. Hopefully, by this mechanism all of the benefits enjoyed by Board-run libraries will now be extended to every library throughout The Bahamas.
As the Authority will have a separate corporate personality and status all public offices in public libraries will be abolished by clause 15 of the Bill once the law is enacted. There are appropriate transitional mechanisms giving existing public officers a one (1) year period to decide whether to remain with the Authority on terms no less favourable than presently enjoyed, or whether to seek re-deployment elsewhere in the service.
The Authority will be mandated to exercise its power in consultation with the Minister of Finance to implement a contributory Pension Plan for all employees providing a contributory pension and benefits scheme that is “similar to those derived by virtue of the Pensions Act. (See section 14(2)).
Indeed, Madam President, as government services expand it would lead to an unmanageable situation if the public service were to consequently expand in numbers. The system of guaranteed tenure of public servants coupled with the system of non-contributory pensions payable under the Pensions Act make it impracticable and unaffordable for every employee in government service to be placed on the permanent and pensionable establishment. This circumstance has led to a great sense of frustration and disappointment among thousands of general service, and other sundry workers, many of whom have been in government service for decades; who face the prospect of a pension-less retirement sometimes after decades of service, and who feel a sense that they have been used to a certain extent.
Hence a system, such as that in the present Bill, where employees are given the option of joining a contributory pensions scheme would greatly ameliorate the human concerns and fears afflicting, particularly long term, workers who are facing retirement; and might go a long way towards improving morale and the conditions of service of employees.
By section 16 of the Bill the Authority will be funded by sums provided by Parliament, derived from its operations, borrowed or raised by way of capital in consultation with the Minister of Finance, grants, donations from foreign states or international organizations or (under section 18 of the Bill) by donations, grants or other monies received (with the prior approval of the Minister).
The Authority is required to ensure that its spending does not exceed its revenue in any given year, to set up a special Reserve Account into which any surplus money is to be paid, and to keep proper accounts.
Upon the coming into force of the Act, all movable and immovable property presently vested in the Treasurer in trust for Her Majesty in right of Her government of The Bahamas for use as public libraries shall immediately vest in the Authority. Similarly all property, material and information formerly owned by libraries under the Nassau Library Act or the Out Islands Public Libraries Act will also automatically vest in the Authority.
By section 25 of the Bill the Authority shall be exempt from the payment of all Customs tariffs, stamp duty and real property taxes.
By section 26 of the Bill no charge can be made for any citizen or permanent resident to become a member of any public library.
Mr. Speaker, this Bill is long overdue. It is forward-looking, progressive and will greatly assist in the further human development of our people and our nation, by tending to improve the efficiency and the quality of all library services throughout The Bahamas.
I so move, Madam President.