Sierra Leone Parliament Holds Meeting on FOI Bill

18 May 2012

The Sierra Leone Parliament May 17 held a pre-legislative conference on the freedom of information bill at which parliamentarians complained bitterly about the tactics of pro-FOI supporters.

Advocates are still hopeful that the bill will be passed, however, although the parliamentary action is occurring at a slower pace than suggested weeks ago by government officials.

Awoko News began its report with this: “The Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Sheka Tarawally might have breathed a sigh of relief as Members of Parliament in whose hands the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill has remained, assured him of their support for its smooth sail in the well of parliament when it reaches that point.”

But the discussion at the meeting apparently centered on parliamentarians’ complaints about text messages urging them to vote for the long-delayed bill. “But MPs during their commendations revealed their disgust over alleged threats spontaneously coming from members of the public through text messages,” according to Awoko.

Awoko also reported that Member of Parliament Emmanuel Tommy “proposed that the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ) Umaru Fofanah should apologize to the membership of the House for allegedly referring to Parliament as `rubber stamp.’ ” The report continued:

But on the contrary, Hon. Mathew Nyuma, also representing the SLPP, from a point of order, requested that the statement made by SLAJ President should not be used as a parameter to derail the passage of the FOI Bill. He said the Information Minister I.B. Kargbo, has equally gone on the media promising the passage of the bill in a week’s time as if he has absolute control over the proceedings of Parliament. Therefore, he suggested, the importance of the bill should take preeminence over any other issue and that processes that would lead to the passage of the bill should be taken into utmost consideration.

In his reaction on a telephone, the President of SLAJ is quoted to have said “I am ready to face Parliament, and I have never referred to Parliament as a rubber stamp parliament. It is unfortunate that a Member of Parliament can misquote me. I have issues with Parliament because they deliberately and unnecessarily stalled the passing of the FOI Bill which is a shame.”

Nevertheless, media reports and information from observers suggest that there is support for the bill.

Amendments could be offered, as hinted by a remark reported by Awoka: “Hon. Mathew Nyuma from Kenema said FOI Bill is one that would adequately serve the interest of the people. He said the bill just needs some clarifications and modifications before enactment. He also suggested that penalty should be instituted for anyone who demands information and fails to utilize that information for the purpose(s) for which it was demanded.”

Minister of Information and Communication Ibrahim Ben Kargbo on April 30 said the bill would be “passed into law next week.”  (See a report in FreedomInfo.org.) But this prediction was upset days later by Majority Leader of Parliament, S.B.B. Dumbuya. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

 

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