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Freedom of Information advocacy, insults not best of options

Freedom of Information advocacy, insults not best of options

I developed a great passion for a law guaranteeing access to information in Sierra Leone when I started working as Information Officer at the Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI) where I worked for a period not exceeding six months. SDI is a body advocating for a law on FOI in Sierra Leone, among other activities.  During that period, I remember the efforts of SDI and that of Minister Ibrahim Ben Kargbo in terms of getting the Bill enacted and also the commitment of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, of which I am a member.

Coupled with the dozens of seminars and workshops, or better put ‘talkshops’ organized by SID, I also know of a particular instance, when the Minister of Information and Communications, IB Kargbo presented a delegation of FOI advocates to President Koroma at State House in 2009, to explain to him the length that the campaign had gone and the desire of government, through the Ministry of Information to get the Bill enacted. And there was also the commitment on the part of government, to get the Bill enacted as was demonstrated by President Koroma in 2009. I was part of the delegation and I recall writing series of news items, all from different angles, in terms of what President Koroma had said regarding his commitment towards getting the FOI Bill enacted into law.

I also organized, through SDI, dozens of radio talk shows on the relevance of a law on FOI, as well as also writing dozens of article on the subject matter and also writing my MA Thesis on Freedom of Information and its impact on governance, with Sierra Leone as a case study. That was in 2010. I recall interviewing a number of stakeholders, including then ACC Commissioner, AT Cole (Esq.) and the current President of SLAJ, Umaru Fofana (Mr.).

Whatever you may want to say of Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, the fact remains, insofar as the issue of enacting a law on Freedom of Information is concerned, he is very committed and always dedicated, not just for the simple fact that he is a journalist, but he also was President for SLAJ and also worked hard in getting the Bill enacted. The success stories of the Ministry of Information and Communication under the leadership of IB Kargbo and his able Deputy Minister, Sheka Tarawallie have been exceptional. They are no saints but they have done well, especially in the area of public communications. The Ministry of Information is as effective in its PR efforts for government just as government commitment to meeting the expectations of the people.SDI should be made to know this.

IB Kargbo

That said, the Society for Democratic Initiatives must also be commended for taking the lead in the campaign. No doubt with that. The passion that the team at SDI has for such a law in Sierra Leone is as commendable as government readiness to get the Bill enacted. SDI must have succeeded in marketing the idea of FOI to some level.

But I am beginning to get disappointed also as an advocate for such a law, in terms of what SDI has embarked upon-that is, using insult as an advocacy tool, as indicated in their recent interview with a leading newspaper in Sierra Leone .

The trend that SDI wants to take in terms of their seeming use of insult in their advocacy drive is, in my view, unacceptable juts as the seeming lack of cohesion among the   advocates themselves, with the exception of SLAJ that has also been doing well in their lobbying skills. The Deputy Executive Director at SDI is a personal friend of mind, but I must register my disappointment in her, for attempting to insult the current Minister of Information, referring to him as a ‘lair…’ taking into account all what IB Kargbo has done since he became Minister of Information and Communications in pushing for an FOI law in Sierra Leone. The interview granted by SDI to Concord Times newspaper, as posted on face book by the Executive Director of SDI, is in my view unwarranted for, especially when we talk about skills in advocacy. You cannot insult someone and expect him/her to come to terms with what you want from such a person.

For SDI to refer to IB Kargbo as making “… blatant lies with regards the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, FOI” , it shows the level at which someone somewhere in one  small corner around Pademba road may want to use  FOI as a success.  I have argued on several occasions that whosoever is working on the need for FOI in Sierra Leone should be seen working in tandem with the only media parent body in the country. SLAJ and it will be disheartening to lampoon Kothor IB Kargbo, especially so taking into account his determination for the Bill to be enacted. If anyone thinks, insulting IB Kargbo is the best of options, there should be a rethink on that.

It would appear people have forgotten the simple principles of separation of power. IB Kargbo may want the law enacted but again, there is the legislative arm of government that is quite different from the executive arm, to which I B Kargbo is part and parcel, or the judiciary.  The readiness of the government to get the Bill enacted should be commended. What SLJA has been doing is to constantly lobby the country’s law making body and this is what others should have done, rather than insulting the Minister of Information and Communications. As I once stated the advocacy for such a law in Sierra Leone has been on for years, even before President Koroma came to power. Past government did give promises as was in 2006, when Elizabeth Lavalie pledged their commitment towards the enactment of the Bill (http://news.sl ).

Let me once again repeat the need for advocates to get religious bodies fully involved in the campaign.  The building of coalitions, especially in terms of expanding on coalition membership and strength has often been ignored. The need for stronger partnership with institutions like the Human Right Commission, the ACC, could be of great necessity. A single meeting with ACC by presenting them with a draft copy of the draft bill is just not that enough.

The last time I wrote on this issue, I submitted that Nigeria had to employ strategies like direct lobbying of legislators and top government officials through face-to-face meetings, letters and memoranda, phone calls and SMS text messages. Building strong partnerships with government agencies in Nigeria like the EFCC, and the Human Right Commission of Nigeria, among other government agencies. This is according to Edetaen Ojo is Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, based in Lagos, Nigeria.

There were also trainings of grassroots and community based organizations at both the federal and state levels. A broad-based coalition of more than 200 members was also established as part of the strategies in Nigeria, as well as training of information officers in government institutions. Civil society groups should first have a clear understanding of what the concept is all about. They should be seen working with SLAJ. Indeed, “we can only talk of accountability and transparency when we have an FOI Law…” but what about government’s effort in enacting a law guaranteeing the ACC prosecutorial powers? Is that not in line with the dictates of transparency and accountability?

Insult is not best of options. My view, though .That said, congratulations to SDI for the constant advocacy over the years.  I am optimistic that our MPs will definitely look at the Bill and see how it could meet the general expectation of the public.  And to IB Kargbo and team at Information Ministry, keep the good work.

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