Without passing the right to access information bill, the 50th anniversary of independence will lack substance
As all of Sierra Leone prepares to celebrate our Nation’s 50th anniversary of independence, it is also time to reflect on how free and independent we as a people actually are. Sadly there is a glaring absence prohibiting Sierra Leoneans from celebrating complete freedom this month: the failure of Parliament to pass the Right to Access Information Bill (2010). The Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI), on behalf of the Freedom of Information Coalition, calls on the Parliament and His Excellency President Koroma to enact the Bill, as a gift to the people, on this special anniversary.
It is widely accepted that freedom of information legislation is essential for sincere democracy to function. The 1991 Constitution acknowledges that the People are sovereign and empower the Government to rule through the democratic process. For this democratic system to work properly, and for there to be a balance of power, there must be scrutiny and oversight by the public. This fundamental right can only be performed if the people are informed. Information allows the sovereign People to serve their role in the governmental process in an effective and knowledgeable manner.
Information enables citizens to choose and vet their officials, and partake in public debate on issues and policies. In the current culture of secrecy that we live in, our democracy rings hollow without access to information.
These truths have been recognized by the democratic world, including our West African neighbors, Liberia and Nigeria. Sadly, although Sierra Leone began the freedom of information campaign much earlier than these nations, they have succeeded where our government has failed. It was anticipated that the Bill would pass through Parliament this March, but it was repeatedly, and likely intentionally, stalled by insufficient APC representation appearing to vote. However, the civil society has hope that, in light of the Presidents previous promises of support, the Administration will carry through.
Examples of these promises include pledges to pass the Bill to the World Bank, made to trigger the second tranche, which are on public record. A public and signed declaration was also made on the Governments behalf by the Honorable Minister of Information and Technology Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, in 2009 at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Again in 2010, Kargbo publicly reaffirmed this promise to Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States while in Accra, Ghana. Furthermore, since 2005, President Koroma has repeatedly and personally professed to SDI Executive Director, Emmanuel S. Abdulai, that he believed in and was committed to the passing of this freedom of information bill. Surprisingly, none of these promises have been kept.
In Mr. Abdulai’s words to the President: “the enactment of the Bill into law is fundamental to democracy and will bring Sierra Leone one step closer to realizing these democratic values, ideals and principles on which [the] government professed.” True democracy requires the free flow of information. Given the Government’s numerous promises to pass the Right to Access Information Bill, SDI asks the Government to make good on its promises, in the spirit of democracy and freedom in this year of celebration, and give the people of Sierra Leone what they are entitled to, and has been denied to them for far too long: The Right to Access Information Bill 2010.
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