Sierra Leone Minister Says FOI Bill to Pass This Week

7 March 2011

The Sierra Leone Minister of information and Communication, Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, said March 4 that the freedom of information bill will become law this week, according to a media report.

The vote did not occur, however. A quorum could not be mustered because opposition parliamentarians out of town to campaign for re-election, a key activist told FreedomInfo.org March 11. Another try to pass may occur the week of March 14.

Kargbo made his comments at the launching of the Sierra Leone Police website and magazine. “He advised Police Officers to have a structured data base as it will provide easy access to Sierra Leoneans searching for any information on issues of national and security concerns,” according to the Sierra Express Media account.

FOI legislation was approved by the Cabinet last summer, and the bill got a first reading in parliament in November. (See previous FreedomInfo.org reports.)

In late February, the Society for Democratic Initiatives issued a press release expressing concern about “protracted delay” in handling of the bill, according to an article in The Awareness Times.

SDI Executive Director Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, the coordinator of the FOI Coalition, said: “What frustrates us in civil society most is the fact that other Bills of equal or lesser importance have recently been enacted in Parliament within days of their introduction, while the FOI Bill lays in abject dormancy for reasons unknown. The FOI Bill’s importance cannot be overemphasized particularly in enhancing a democratic process and ensuring accountability and transparency in governance in Sierra Leone.”

The release states:

It is distressing to note that, at present, the legislative committee with responsibility for the Bill is not treating it with the utmost seriousness and urgency it deserves. To our knowledge, two separate dates have been scheduled for the meeting of the legislative committee, however, each time interested parties rush to Parliament, to our dismay the committee meeting has never come to fruition,” the SDI release states.

Government made the commitment to the people of Sierra Leone and the international community that an FOI bill would be brought into force in 2010. It is aggravating to realize that the government was simply posturing and playing up to donor demands, from the World Bank in particular, for the release of second tranche of budget support. Now that the second tranche has been released, the FOI Bill has been relegated.

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