‘Access to information curbs corruption, improve accountability’

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cherno Marena, the solicitor general of The Gambia has said that access to information helps curb corruption and controls its impacts and in the long terms act as a deterrent to corruption; improve accountability; ensure authorities are held accountable and improve the way they work; leads to sustainable development; and ensure transparency.

Mr. Marena made these remarks yesterday at Senegambia Beach Hotel while deputising for Demba Ali Jawo, the minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure at the opening of a high-level stakeholder workshop to seek recommendations for an Access to Information Legal Framework in The Gambia organised by ARTICLE 19.

The project occurs within the framework of an ongoing initiative implemented by UNESCO to reinforce the capacities of Gambian media professionals and revise media legislation related to freedom of expression and access to information. 

The project is part of a wider governance programme financed by the European Union in the country, which includes Access to Justice and Legal Education; Journalism and Media; and Public Financial Management. 

The overall objective of the project is to contribute to better democratic governance through improving freedom of the press and the quality of information available to the population.  

He described the forum as particularly important for a transition country like the Gambia which had undergone information drought over the past two decades, adding that Barrow’s government made enormous efforts in ensuring Gambian citizens are informed in a timely manner on matters pertaining to government and leaders.

He noted that as a matter of urgency, “we must start putting in place adequate legal and institutional measures to guarantee and consolidate media freedom and the public’s right to access information”, adding that as part of these measures, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Information, Communication and Infrastructure have engaged in a collaborative efforts in signing an MOU with ARTICLE 19 to fast track this reform process.

He stated that the forum was the first step in implementing the MOU that seeks the most best way possible they could ensure access to information is not only an abstract but a reality for all Gambians.

He pointed out that the Ministry of Information is working in collaboration with key stakeholders to ensure the rights of journalists, the right to free expression and the rights to access information are enjoyed by all Gambians.

The views of every sector of our society must be considered and reflected in every step of the process toward drafting this law, he went on.

According to him, after 22 years of information drought, it is an enormous task to chance the mindsets of both the government and the governed even though the political will to put in place an access to information law is evident they intend to go beyond that by drafting the law on access to information.

The law on access to information will not just become another legal text, he said.

He further said that access to information is key to their agenda to reconcile the Gambian nation after 22 years of brutality.

He said information by itself is not power but an essential fostered in an exercise of political and economic power.

The public is only able to truly participate in the democratic process when they have information about the activities and policies of government, he highlighted, saying the absence of inability to access information often create a sense of disempowerment, mistrust and frustration.

Access to relevant and up to date information can create the basis for natural exchange between public officials and the general population, Marena said, adding that The Gambia government is committed to strengthening transparency, and there is no better way of ensuring this than putting in place mechanisms relating to the enhancement of the public’s right to know and the public to access the information.

Author: Cherno Omar Bobb