Sierra Leone FOI Advocates Urge Parliament to Act

6 April 2012

Advocates of a freedom of information bill in Sierra Leone are pressing the government to take action on the long-stalled FOI bill, and looking for a procedural move that could ease passage.

Activists continue to hope that the government will act to arrange the process so that the bill will not go back to square one in Parliament.

The bill was introduced in the House of Parliament in September 2010, and by October 2011 had gone through the first-, second-, third-, and committee-stage readings.  With the new session just started the bill could be back to the beginning procedurally, but the government could move to have it considered in the bull body without going back through the committee process.

Although there have been some hints this might happen, there also are suggestions that some in Parliament might not approve of this course. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The recent pro-bill statement came from the Freedom of Information Coalition Sierra Leone (FOICSL), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International .

“The government has been promising us passage of this bill for too long,” said Emmanuel Abdulai Saffa, chairperson of the Freedom of Information Coalition, Sierra Leone. “This legislation is key to addressing longstanding patterns of corruption and serious human rights violations, which were at the core of our brutal 11-year armed conflict.”

According to the statement, “The executive and legislature in Sierra Leone have traded accusations that the other is to blame for the hold-up in enacting the legislation. Regardless of the reason for the delay, the government should present a united front and show the necessary political will to ensure that the bill is passed into law.”

“President Ernest Bai Koroma has made numerous public statements endorsing his ruling All People’s Congress party’s (APC) support for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill. In 2009, he told the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and a representative of the Freedom of Information Coalition, `Like the anti-corruption law, I want to pass the best FOI law in Africa.’ ”

The All People’s Congress, in a 2007 manifesto,  stated that “the principles of transparency and accountability and the elimination of corrupt practices are generally recognized as indispensable attributes for … governance” and pledged that “an APC government will ensure strict adherence to these principles and practices.”

“The government should stop dragging its feet on the Freedom of Information Bill,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “For the Sierra Leone people’s welfare and in the interest of development and the rule of law, the government should embrace transparency, rather than thwart it.”

“Time is running out,” said Brima Abdulai Sheriff, director of the Sierra Leonean section of Amnesty International. “We call on the government and parliament to demonstrate their commitment to respect for human rights by passing the Freedom of Information Bill before the end of the parliament’s session in June.”

“The right to know is not merely important as an aspect of freedom of expression. It is also an important tool for bringing about the full realisation of all other human rights. The FOI will provide a means by which people can come to know about their rights and entitlements, identify when their rights are being violated and hold governments to account for their constitutional and international human rights obligations,” said Sheriff.

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