Angry Parliamentarian Vows to Block Sierra Leone FOI Bill

4 May 2012

Only days after a top Sierra Leone government official said the freedom of information bill would pass during the week of May 7, a key legislator, angered by journalists, said it won’t.

The strong statement by Majority Leader of Parliament, S.B.B. Dumbuya was dramatic, according to a report in Ariogbo by Femi Coker, who described what happened when journalists converged on Parliament during World Press Freedom Day to present a petition supporting the bill.

Freedominf.org has learned that the Minister of Information and Communication, Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, who on April 30 said the bill would be “passed into law next week” was upset by the confrontations. (See a report on his prediction in FreedomInfo.org.)

According to Coker’s story, Dumbuya  “lambasted journalists in Parliament Building, shouting at them that his party will not cooperate in the debate and eventual enactment of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill and also state that the FOI Bill would never become law.”

The account continues:

He also told the journalists that they had not been invited by Parliament and therefore were not welcome. He was reacting when journalists marched yesterday Would Press Freedom Day to deliver a petition for the speedy enactment of the FOI Bill into law.

The journalists at the State House appeared May 3 in support of the FOI bill and of a proposal to expunge section (5) of the Public Order Act of 1961 that criminalizes libel.

SLAJ Vice President, Sheik Bawoh, “handed over the petition letter to the Chief of Staff (COS) at State House on behalf of the SLAJ President, and urged President Koroma to pay attention and remove the bad aspect of the law which he said is not only suppressive but responsible for the slow growth of the media,” according to the Coker story.

That appeared to go smoothly with COS Kelfala Marah, who promised to submit the letter to the president and said kind things about journalists.

Dumbuya Angered

However, the report continues, “Dumbuya threw caution to the wind and without any attention to protocol, threatened that his party would withdraw its cooperation in and not pass the FOI Bill into law.”

“Dumbuya who was addressing the main opposition Sierra Leones People’s Party (SLPP) Members of Parliament, Hon. Frank Kposowa in the presence of dozens of journalists at the entrance to the Speaker’s Office, stated further that as far as he was concerned, SLAJ was not using the right methods to press for the passage of the FOI Bill,” the article says. It continues:

He told Hon. Frank Kposowa that the SLAJ delegation should not have been allowed into the Parliament building but that they should have been made to wait outside the Parliament for the Speaker to come out of his office to meet them for the delivery of their letter. Appearing very cross, he said if this was the method SLAJ members were using then he was not going to give them his support in passing the FOI Bill. When Hon. Frank Kposowa was quizzed as to what he made of such a statement, he replied that he had no further comments to make, but that he was going to sort it out with Hon. Dumbuya.

The journalists were further surprised when another Member of Parliament Hon. Komboh Kamara, asked them about the whereabouts of the Bill and even mocked them to go to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo and ask him for the bill.

A member of the delegation told this press that it was unfortunate that a Member of Parliament could make such a statement.“I see no reason why people should regard this Bill with suspicion. After all,  the FOI Bill only seeks to give sierra Leoneans the opportunity to have easy access to relevant information that will help them better understand what goes on in the ministries, departments, agencies and local councils,” the journalists maintained.

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