BY Nelson Manneh
As the 28th of September marks the International Right to Know Day, the undersigned Civil Society Organizations presented a statement on the Commemoration of International Right to Know Day to the Minister of Information, Communication and Infrastructure, Mr. Demba Ali Jawo.
The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, The Organization of Non-Governmental Organizations, Action Aid International the Gambia, Foundation for African Women Educationalists, Women for Democracy and Development, Girls Agenda and Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations were among the organisations that called on the Minister, to present their statement.
The Statement was presented to the Minister on Friday the 29th of September 2017.
In her opening remarks at the presentation ceremony, Madam Hanna Forster, Executive Director at the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies said, the 28th of September is known to be the International Right to Know Day and it is commemorated worldwide.
“As information is essential, that is why we take the responsibility to come and present this statement to you and the day needs to be observed,” she said
Madam Forster added that the circulation of information makes the truth to be known.
Aunty Amie Sillah, a member of the civil society organization and Executive Director of Women for Democracy and Development (WODD), read the Statement, which among other things, states that access to information is recognized as a fundamental human right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Amie Sillah said information is an effective tool to ensure transparency in governance and for holding government accountable. ‘‘Information is power which can provide people with the knowledge to demand their rights, such as their right not to be detained without trial,’’ Sillah said.
The Statement went further to add that the Gambia has no Freedom of Information Law and therefore Government is not obliged to provide information to the public upon request which makes it difficult to hold the government accountable or for it to operate in a transparent manner as requested by section 214 (5) of the Constitution of the Gambia, 1997 which states: “the Government, with due regard to the principles of an open and democratic society, shall foster accountability and transparency at all levels of Government.”
The Statement went on to indicate that the Ministry of Information has given indications of its intention to pursue the enactment of a freedom of information law. ‘‘We wish to urge the government to give this move due regard so that the citizens can benefit from a transparent government, the statement said.”
Civil Society wants to invite Government to consider including a provision making access to information a fundamental right when reviewing the Constitution of the Gambia. Such a provision will be in line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 62 of the Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, puts a monitoring mechanism in place by requiring each member state to submit a report to the Commission on the Legislative or other measures taken with a view to giving effect to the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed by the Charter. The former Government of the Gambia has not submitted any report for the past 22 years. ‘‘We called on the present government to start submitting reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights without delay.” The Statement went on.
“Access to information is critical for enabling citizens to exercise their voice, to effectively monitor and hold government to account and to enter into informed dialogue about decisions which affect their lives,” The Statement ended.
In his response to the Statement after it’s presentation, the Minister of Information Communication and Infrastructure Hon. Demba Jawo, said access to Information is a priority to the new Government and his Ministry in particular. “The circulation of information is vital and is the only tool that the public can use to hold Government accountable,” he said.
The Hon. Minister further added that in the previous years, journalists find it very difficult to have access to information but that with this new dispensation, they are trying by all means to make sure that information reaches the public. “Things cannot happen just like that. The public needs to be informed and the changes will surely take place gradually as time goes on,” said the Hon. Minister.
Mr. Madi Jobarteh of TANGO in his closing remarks said information is an effective tool to ensure transparency in governance and holding government accountable. He thanked the Minister for giving them the opportunity to present their statement. He said as a Civil Society organisation, their objective is to promote human rights and to make sure there is transparency and good governance.