Sierra Leone Moving to Pass FOI Law; With U.S. Nudge?

17 October 2013

Sierra Leone’s parliament may soon pass a long-pending freedom of information law.

The unexpected rush to approve the law was sparked by the president’s interest in qualifying for the U.S. aid program, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, according to an informed source.

Sierra Leone in December was made eligible for MCC membership. The process to actual inclusion, which can take years, is now under way. It involves a mutual examination of constraints to economic growth and the creation conditions that are memorialized in a “compact.”

MCC officials in Washington, just back to work after the government shutdown, could not  confirm whether passage of a FOI bill was a specific condition for membership. However, the MCC provided the following statement to FreedomInfo.org:

MCC is encouraged by the government of Sierra Leone’s efforts to enact a Freedom of Information Act, which is part of MCC’s Freedom of Information indicator and is a step that transparency groups and other key stakeholders have been seeking. In general, MCC recognizes that sound Freedom of Information acts can not only improve citizens’ access to information, but can serve to increase government transparency and accountability. In the meantime, with the strong support of the Sierra Leonean government, Sierra Leone has made good progress on the compact development process.

Sudden Moveement

FOI legislation appeared to have fallen into a limbo state, with officials this July expressing concern that official records were not up to the challenge. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) President Ernest Bai Koroma has stated his support for the bill, but legislative action was not forthcoming.

That changed suddenly.

On Oct. 8, The Ministry of Information and Communication  announced that the bill will be passed into law Oct. 18.

The ministry met with civil society, including the Freedom of Information Coalition, and held a workshop Oct. 16 to educate new MPs. The draft bill circulated to the MPs reportedly is the same as the 2010 draft.

The Freedom of Information Coalition has organized a media campaign to raise public awareness.

 

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