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Despite Uncertainty, Sierra Leone FOI Activists Organize

Source: freedominfo.org

Date: 20 March 2012

With conflicting signals coming from top government officials, advocates for a freedom of information in Sierra Leone are coalescing to lobby for FOI legislation.

The activity comes as a top minister pledged action on a bill, according to a media report by Michael T. Kamara and Mariama Bundu in Awareness Times. But the Speaker of the Parliament was less reassuring.

Minister of Information and Communication, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, “has assured journalists that his ministry is going to strongly lobby parliamentarians to fast track the remaining processes in passing the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Bill in parliament before the end of this Parliament’s term come September,” according to the article.

The minister spoke March 15 at the National Conference on Freedom of Information and the Rights to Access Information, organized by the Society for Democratic Initiative in Sierra Leone in Freetown.

The article continued:

Minister Kargbo noted that when his Government assumed governance in 2007, the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma urged him to ensure that the FOI Bill is passed into law through Parliament. He confessed that it is his responsibility, as a former President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ) and now the Minister of Information and Communication, to ensure the Bill is fast tracked. He reechoed the importance of the Bill, whilst highlighting reasons why he thought it must be passed into law soonest.

However, the Honorable Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Justice Abel Stronge whilst delivering his address, noted that there is nothing like “fast-tracking”, in parliament, as stated by the minister. According to him, Bills sent to Parliament have to go through all the stages and thorough discussions before being passed into law.

He however urged his audience that the Bill will eventually be finalized and passed into law after it had gone through all the normal processes. The Hon. Speaker called on Sierra Leoneans to continue to be patient and allow their representatives in Parliament to thoroughly debate on the Bill.

The FOI bill, under debate for 10 years, came close to passage last year, clearing virtually all legislative hurdles and advocates had hoped Parliament would not require it to traverse all the steps again in the new session.

The conference was “a resounding success,” reported SDI Executive Director Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai. He wrote:

The meeting touched on important issues of national importance, bringing to light issues like how FOI will aid the transparency struggle in the extractives, the political will questions, the role of the media and civil society, whether the bill would be passed before elections or not etal. What came out of the meeting however is the reality that there is a huge gap in government and parliament’s position on the FOI bill. The speaker was saying one thing and the minister another. For us, it came out that we need to create the platform for these two institutions to meet.

At the end of the meeting, the FOI coalition convened in whole for the first time, with representatives not just from the regions this time but also, and most importantly, focal persons from each district headquarter towns. I am attached for your consumption minutes of the brief discussions.

Agreed upon action points include:

- Distribution of simplified FOI report to all the region

- Sending Text Messages to MPs

- Collate Petition Signatures in all the district against MPs

- Jingles cassette be distributed to each district

- Marshal CSOs in all the towns in protest for the delay in passing the FOI Bill

- Petition MP in their different constituency

See previous FreedomInfo.org reports by searching for “Sierra Leone.” In February President Ernest Bai Koromo again pledged his support, FreedomInfo.org reported, but past pledges have not resulted in action, see previous FreedomInfo.org summary,)