Sierra Leone Minister Positive on Prospects for FOI Law

15 October 2010

Sierra Leone’s information minister has given assurances that a freedom of information law will be enacted soon, according to remarks made to journalist Pa John Baimba Sesay published Oct. 13 in Sierra Express Media.

In his story is an account of his recent discussion with Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, information minister for this new government of Ernest Koroma, and a former journalist. Koroma’s latest statement of support for a FOI law was recently reported in FreedomInfo.org.

Describing a conversation this week, Sesay reported, “IB Kargbo told me, ‘this is part of the governance reform process and we are still committed to it…’”

The article continued:

On what has been done so far, he said, ‘it has been gazette…going through the process and we have sensitized the public and we shall have a pre-legislative discussion on it after the debate on the President‘s speech..So within weeks, we expect to have this law…’ The Information Minister spoke of this plan by civil society people but for him, ‘there is the need for us as a government to give weight to the issue by ensuring we put our hands together…’ And so far there has been the complete support of government in this direction.

However, I will encourage the government, through the Minister of Information not to forget the issue of proper and efficient record keeping in both private and public institutions so as to enhance reliable access to information law for the country. The need for the physical structures like libraries, archives and research centers are all central to the call for an access to information.  This government, from what IB Kargbo said, holds the view that the concept of freedom of expression as contained in the 1991 Constitution cannot be efficiently pursued when the citizens are not given the right to access public held information. He is mindful that like other countries, there are exceptional cases to access to information, and this, the government should take into consideration when getting the Act debated by our law makers.

I am definitely going to take Minister IB Kargbo by his words that the efforts of government to get an access to information law in the country is part of their reform process and that, it is bound to happen within their first term in office.  The commitment of the government towards an access of information law should be seen as practical as the need for the law itself.  It is of importance that it helps in the promotion of democratic governance.

Sensitization Tour

A series of meetings about the bill was held Sept. 20-23, according to a report in Awareness Times, which referred to it as “a three-day nationwide pre-legislative sensitization tour.”

The paper reported:

The tour was climaxed in Kenema with a one-day workshop for stakeholders comprising of Journalists, Civil Society Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations, Teachers and Members of the public.

Speaking at the ceremony, Emmanuel Saffa-Abdulai, Media Lawyer and National Coordinator of Society for Democratic Initiative informed participants that the FOI is found in all developed countries in the world which he said needs to be incorporated into the laws of Sierra Leone, hence the need for the sensitization process. He said government has clearly shown that they were committed and ready to pass the Freedom of Information Bill to become an Act of Parliament as law in our constitution. In that line, he expressed his satisfaction and confidence over government’s commitment.

He said FOI will not only enhance accountability but will also help to minimize corruption which has been a bane in our society for so long. “But such vital information relating to the security of the state and that of the privacy of an individual will be kept secret,” he said.

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