Sierra Leone Official Lists FOIA Bill Impediments

7 July 2011

In a detailed and frank speech, a key Sierra Leone official has described the impediments facing freedom of information legislation that has been ready for a vote in Parliament since March.  

The July 7 talk by Edward Kwame Yankson, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communications, included a jibe at civil society groups and six-point list of “challenges.” The text of his remarks given at the National Conference on Freedom of Information was posted by Cocorioko.

Kwame Yankson described himself as “the focal point” for FOI in Sierra Leone and one of the architects of the draft FOI Bill 2010 and he stressed that the government is a strong supporter of the bill, whose history he traced. 

The minister said the government “decided not to arm twist the legislative arm” but has engaged in various effort to educate members, such as through a recent seminar in Accra, Ghana. “Some members of Parliament who were opposed to the bill at its initial stage are now champions of the FOI after the Accra workshop,” he said.

“As a Government, we are willing and determined to have the Freedom of Information Law, but there are other players in the periphery of governance that should positively assist the process,” he continued.

He cautioned against “niche warfare” among civil society groups, saying:

Besides the concerns expressed  by some members of Parliament on the issue of penalty clauses for violations of the Act during the debate on the FOI Bill, we must also attempt to address the challenges of niche warfare among various civil society groups as to who must take credit for the enactment of the bill into law. At this moment in the political history of our country we must all be proud to say as Sierra Leoneans that we did it collectively in the interest of our country.

He then listed “the challenges facing the passage of the FOI bill into law in Sierra Leone” as:

– The MPs believe the FOI is an easy ride for Journalists to intrude into their private lives
– Some MPs are of the view that the structures for the smooth implementation of  the FOI Law such as proper records management systems, trained personnel  and adequate funds must be available before implementation
– The perception of Journalists that the FOI is for the benefit of Journalists alone
– Weak Civil society coalition in the fight towards having an FOI law enacted
– Niche warfare among civil society organizations
– MPs want penalty clauses included for people who misuse  or distort information given to them for selfish reasons

He continued:

You would realize from the above mentioned challenges that we must work collectively to get over the delay in the enactment of the FOI bill. The Executive arm of Government has successfully played its part and accepted the Freedom of Information Bill as a policy, it is now left with the Law Makers to accept it and transform it into law in the interest of promoting transparency and accountability.

Let me conclude by appealing to all stakeholders in this process to refrain from making themselves individual champions in the fight towards the enactment of the Freedom of Information Law. Let us collectively address the concerns raised by the Members of Parliament with regards to some portions of the bill and encourage them to pass it into law. Allow Sierra Leone to be the victor, not an individual or a particular organization. 

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