Plans Made to Promote FOI in Francophone African Nations

5 October 2012

Transparency activists have laid plans for advancing freedom of information in five francophone countries of West Africa — Guinea, Niger, Benin, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

In Guinea, where the law is passed but not yet operational, plans were made to press for “speedy publication,” along with efforts to build capacity to use it.

For Niger, the top priority is to build public support for FOI legislation. The need to create an infrastructural framework for effective compliance with the law was also stressed.

Regarding Benin, the number one item is to “revise the current draft Bill that seeks the enactment of a law dealing with issues of FoI, Media and Press Freedom in one and the same document and instead develop two separate Bills with the two issues, for submission to parliament.” Building pubic support and establishing a coalition are also emphasized.

Cote D’Ivoire activism will begin with identifying “critical issues affecting the ordinary Ivorien, the resolution of which are dependent on the effective utilisation of the right to Freedom of Information and using them to show the uniqueness, relevance and importance of this right…”

For Senegal the plan is to undertake direct advocacy engagement with the new Senegalese government to ensure “that it enacts the necessary legislation that facilitates the speedy implementation of the existing law on access to administrative documents, which is a holdover from the previous administration, while it also takes steps to enact an all-embracing FoI law for the country.”

The relevant sections for each country follow in full.

The planning came at a Regional Capacity Building Training Workshop held in Conakry, Guinea Sept. 24-27.

It was attended by a broad range of stakeholders, including policy makers, parliamentarians, academicians, media practitioners and media rights nongovernmental organizations, government officials, civil society organisations, community based Institutions and FOI activists from Niger, Republic of Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal and the host country Guinea, according to a report on the meeting.

“Despite increased adoption of FoI laws in Africa, effective implementation of such laws remains a challenge in many parts of the continent,” according to the summary report. “It has also been observed that Francophone Africa still lags very much behind, in the adoption and effective implementation of FoI laws. Some have argued that this state of affairs in Francophone is occasioned by the existing misconception of the right to Freedom of Information as a right meant exclusively for the enjoyment of the media and not by all segments of the society.”

The meeting was convened by Reseau des Journalistes Economiques de Guinee (REJEG), in partnership with the Guinea Country Office of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the OSF Rights Initiatives (Rights Initiatives), the Open Society Justice Initiative (The Justice Initiative) and the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC).

During the meeting, it was noted that Guinean FOI law is yet to be published in the Official Gazette and so it is not operational. “Consequently, it is only the Nigerien FoI Law that is currently operational in all of Francophone West Africa,” according to the report.

Recommendations Made

The participants made a series of country-specific recommendations. The report states:

Against this background, after extensive deliberation, participants resolved to do the following:

Guinea:

        1.    Set up a collaborative platform involving various stakeholders in the  Guinean society, to push for the speedy publication of the Guinean FoI, while also working towards regularising whatever defect might have occurred in the process of enacting the Legislation, so as to facilitate its speedy and effective implementation;

        2.    Conduct consistent, broad based capacity building programmes for the Guinean population and public officers to foster proper understanding of the law and facilitate effective compliance with its provisions;

       3.    Identify various avenues for utilizing the law in addressing both age-long and current challenges being experienced in the process of instituting a culture of transparent and accountable management of various natural resources with which Guinea is endowed, for the benefit of the Guinean people;

      4.    Utilise the FoI law in strengthening democratic practise in the country through fostering effective citizen’s participation in governance under a framework that builds national cohesion and unity in diversity for the Guinean people.  

Niger:

  1.  Undertake effective, vigorous and consistent capacity building programmes on the new Freedom of Information Legislation targeted at the local population in Niger, public officials and other stakeholders, aimed at creating the requisite awareness and understanding of the FoI Law, how it can be utilised and its potential for some of the perennial problems in Niger and positively transforming the country for the good of both citizens and residents alike;
  2. Create frameworks that enable the effective utilisation of the FoI law in monitoring the extractive industry in Niger, to ensure the adoption of best practice operational standards that effectively address the various environmental and socio-economic challenges associated with the extraction of mineral resources in any part of the country;
  3.  Ensure the creation of the right infrastructural framework for effective compliance with the law by all institutions affected by it, including instituting proper and modern records and information management sytems that enhance effective compliance with the proactive disclosure obligations of all public institutions under the law;
  4. Undertake consistent advocacy towards securing the commitment of the government to ensure the provision of adequate resources in the annual national budget for the effective implementation of the FoI law by all public institutions, including supporting the work of the Oversight Mechanism established under the law.
  5.  Create the enabling environment that facilitates effective collaboration and partnership between the government, Civil Society Groups and the populace that facilitates the process of utilising the law in ensuring the realisation of the cardinal objectives of both the Decentralisation Policy and the realisation of the value for money proposition in all processes of public procurement in the public service at all levels.             

 Republic of Benin:

  1. In keeping with emerging global best practice principles and standards, revise the current draft Bill that seeks the enactment of a law dealing with issues of FoI, Media and Press Freedom in one and the same document and instead develop two separate Bills with the two issues, for submission to parliament.
  2. Undertake robust, effective and sustained public sensitisation and capacity building programmes involving various stakeholders in the country issues of Freedom of Information in other to foster proper understanding and enlightenment about this right and its utility in ensuring the effective realisation of other rights, including socio-economic and cultural rights.
  3. Establish a broad based Coalition to push for the speedy adoption and effective implementation of the proposed FoI Bill in the country. 

Cote D’Ivoire:

  1. Identity critical issues affecting the ordinary Ivorien, the resolution of which are dependent on the effective utilisation of the right to Freedom of Information and using them to show the uniqueness, relevance and importance of this right to the generality of the Ivorien population irrespective of their ethnic or religious affiliation or other considerations.
  2. Work towards promoting the establishment of a broad based, effective and well organised national coalition to advocate for the enactment of an FoI law in the country and also monitoring the process of ensuring its effective implementation.
  3. Undertake various public sensitisation and capacity building programmes that facilitate proper understanding of this right and its value in re-creating a new Ivorien society for the benefit of every person in the country.
  4. Undertake a study aimed at identifying existing laws that have FoI provisions and develop processes for ensuring their effective implementation as part of the process of creation an awareness on the value and utility of Freedom of Information for the entire populace in the country.

 Senegal:

  1. Undertake direct advocacy engagement with the new Senegalese Government in ensuring that it enacts the necessary legislation that facilitates the speedy implementation of the existing law on access to administrative documents, which is a holdover from the previous administration, while it also takes steps to enact an all-embracing FoI law for the country.
  2. Scale up on-going efforts by various CSO groups and other stakeholders aimed at ensuring effective implementation existing legislation with FoI provisions that impact positively on the local communities such as the law on Decentralisation.
  3. Conduct FoI sensitisation and capacity building programmes on FoI for members of the public and public officials.
  4.  Ensure the strengthening of the Coalition by ensuring that it is all embracing by including various interest groups and stakeholders in the country.  
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