Sierra Leone Cabinet Advances FOI Bill

25 June 2010

By Toby McIntosh 

The Sierra Leone Cabinet June 16 approved a draft Freedom of Information bill.

The measure will go to the Parliament within the next four or five weeks, according to an article in Awareness Times by Augustine Samba quoting the Minister of Information and Communication, Alhaji I. B. Kargbo. He was formerly the president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists.

The report indicates that approval came after “intensive deliberation.”

Advocates for the law say President Ernest Bai Koroma, while serving as opposition leader in parliament in 2005, promised to support the law.

In a June 15 story, Awareness Times reported:

 “Months of lobbying of the members of the Parliament of Sierra Leone by the Freedom of Information Coalition (FOIC) has paid off with Parliament having decided that its Legislative Committee should give “consideration” to the Freedom of Information Bill that had been presented to it by the FOIC. The intent of Parliament was contained in a letter dated 9th June, 2006, to the FOI Chairman, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai.

Two months ago, the FOIC had received the public support of the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, APC Leader Hon. Ernest Koroma, and the Deputy Leader of the House, Hon. Elizabeth Lavalie (SLPP). The FOIC Chairman, Mr. Abdulai, said that “consideration” of the FOI Bill by Parliament will give impetus to the FOI campaign in Sierra Leone, and stressed that “a freedom of Information Act would not be merely about policing, or, ferreting for information that could implicate the corrupt in public service; it will, importantly, help stimulate those variables that wi1l not only radically minimize poverty in our society, but, significantly generate wealth in our resource-rich country”.

The FOIC plans mega concerts around the country to popularize the FOI concept by October, and plans to lobby the populace to pledge their support for FOI with their express signatures and thumbprints: “By October this year, we aim to have secured over 2 million signatures and “thumb prints of the citizenry expressing their support for the FOI Act…”, said the FOI Secretary General, Oswald Hanciles.

Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, the executive director of the Society for Democratic Initiative in Sierra Leone, presented a draft bill in 2005 and have solicited the government’s support.

In remarks in 2010, Abdulai concluded, “In this conundrum of fighting unbridled corruption in Sierra Leone, a Freedom of Information Act would not be a panacea, but it holds the potential of being a saving grace for our country.”

For further background on the campaign, see an article in Newstime Africa.

Supporters of a FOI law are also campaigning for repeal of a Criminal Libel Law.

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