By Momodou Jarju
The Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) said The Gambia is lagging behind on right to information law in the sub-region.
Speaking at the 2-day training of cluster Heads on Access to Information (ATI) Advocacy held at a local hotel, Bakau, Saikou Jammeh said The Gambia is currently the only English-speaking country in West Africa that does not have right to information law.
He said the law is not here for only journalists despite when it is in place, he hopes it would improve the quality of journalism in the country.
“Journalists would be able to do a lot of work, but also hopefully, the quality of journalism we have in this country would improve because any journalist that you talk to in this country would tell you that they do not have information from the Government and that is really unfortunate,” he said.
Secretary Jammeh said there cannot be a functioning democracy when citizens do not have information that is crucial for them to be able to hold their Government accountable.
Jammeh also said the law would also support the Government in its works, especially in terms of bridging the gap between the government and the governed.
He said from the change of government in 2016/17 to now, what everyone is saying is that when you look at what’s happening in the country you will realize that there is a bit of a disconnect between the government and the people.
He remarked: “But were information flows quite freely, then the issue of that gap would be eventually narrowed,” Jammeh said.
He said the journey of enacting right to information law in the country started two years ago, saying the journey is quite smooth thanks to the support and corporation of the civil society and the Gambia Government.
Jammeh further said it is quite sad that the country’s constitution does not recognize access to information or right to information as a distinct human right.
“And this is something that we are trying to change. Because we all know where we are from. We’ve defeated a dictatorship and then now we have a nation to build and then in building that nation, we recognize that human rights and democracy are so essential in that process,” Jammeh said.
Also speaking at the opening ceremony, Nfamara Jawneh, executive director of Bekayang Kafo said as members of the civil society, they feel it is important to have access to information law in the country because access to freedom of information law is not only going to be beneficial to the members of the press as it is not journalists’ issue alone.
“As members of civil society, we need data for our advocacy. We need information for the work that we do. So, if accessing that information would be facilitated by a law, we will be more than happy to participate actively from the drafting, formulation and ensuring the passing of that law for this country,” he said.
He said if citizens can have public data and public information, they can hold the government accountable which would also ensure effective service delivery.
Therefore, he said, the public institutions would be able to do justice to the Gambian people.
“Because we would be able to better hold them accountable and we would ensure that whatever the services that they are to deliver to the Gambian people would be of good quality because they know that citizens would now know how much money they are receiving and how they are spending those resources,” he said.
Meanwhile, the training of trainers organized by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) brought together 15 participants and is being supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).