By Assan Bah
On the commemoration of the 2nd-anniversary signing of the Access to Information (ATI) Act, 2021 the Civil Society Coalition (CSO) on Access to Information, has in a press statement, called on the government to establish an Information Commission.
The release stated that: “a fundamental challenge in the implementation of the access to information law is the establishment of the Information Commission”, with the law providing for the establishment of a Commission whose primary duty would be to promote and protect the right of access to information.
It said the commission, if established would be responsible for the monitoring of the implementation of the legislation, and have powers to hear appeals for information requests refused and make orders for such information to be produced or released.
It said, “Despite the creation of a budget by the Ministry of Information for the establishment of the Commission in 2023, nothing has been done yet seven months into the calendar year.
The release further stated that “having access to information legislation is not the be-all and end-all of our quest as a nation to ensure people fully enjoy their right of access to public information or ensuring transparency and accountability in government and governance processes”.
Further highlighting its challenges, the CSOs revealed that it submitted its roadmap to the Ministry of Information to serve as a national framework but said the Ministry has still not adopted it.
“The Roadmap, which was supposed to give direction and serve as a strategic plan for the implementation of the Access to Information law which was submitted to the Ministry of Information on 28 November 2022, has not been adopted by the Ministry as the National Roadmap. Instead, despite the consultations with the Ministry before the development of the document, the Ministry has decided to develop a new roadmap – a clear duplication of efforts and a waste of resources. This has significantly affected the implementation of the law as the Ministry currently lacks a clear direction for the operationalisation of the law,” CSO revealed.
The statement further said that the ATI law provides for the Appointment of Five Commissioners by the President in consultation with the Public Service Commission, which will be subjected to the approval of the National Assembly.
However, it said since the signing of the law, “not a single commissioner has been appointed. The CSO Coalition on ATI called on the Ministry of Information, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Act, to work with relevant stakeholders to develop a TOR for Commissioners and to identify possible candidates to recommend to the President and the Civil Service Commission for Appointment as well as ensure the right people are put in place and the independence of the Commission as outlined in Section 41 of the Act.
The statement further indicated that as per the ATI law (section 7), each public body should develop an implementation plan on how they will implement the law about proactive and reactive disclosure. “However, there is no Information Commission two years after the signing of the Access to Information Act. As a result, the culture of hoarding public information, which was entrenched during the dictatorship, continues. Journalists, civil society, the private sector, and members of the public still face challenges accessing public information from public institutions – despite the existence of the ATI law.
The CSO Coalition also called on the Ministry of Information to report to the relevant stakeholders on the lessons learned on its recent tours to Ghana and Liberia. “While the Ministry of Information has been embarking on study tours to Ghana and Liberia and is planning to go to South Africa. For all these tours, they have not shared with relevant stakeholders what lessons they have learned, and what lessons would be incorporated into our implementation strategy – to allow scrutiny to ensure the right processes, procedures, and ideas are adopted for the implementation of the ATI Law,” it revealed.
The Gambia joined other West African counterparts in adopting access to information legislation through the National Assembly in July 2021, which was assented to by the President of the Republic a month later. This was the first time in the history of The Gambia for the right of access to information to be legally recognized as a human right.
The CSO Coalition, however, reported that they have observed little progress on the implementation of the Act. “We observed that very little progress has been made about the implementation of the Access to Information Act, 2021, especially about the most important and major issues that would ensure people enjoy the right to information,” the coalition said.
“We, therefore, call on the Ministry of Information, to expedite the process of implementation of the ATI law and as well involve all relevant stakeholders in the process. Setting up the Information Commission, the Appointment of Commissioners, and having a Roadmap for the implementation must be a top priority.”