“The enactment of this law is going to be a bold and significant commitment to good governance, giving that the country is going through a process of democratic reconstruction following the overthrow of the former President.”
Mr. Njie was speaking yesterday during a press conference at the YMCA conference hall, marking the commemoration of International Access to Information Day, previously known as Right to Information Day.
International Access to Information Day is commemorated every year on 28 September. Officials say the day is commemorated in recognition of people’s right to access government-held information and the importance of citizen’s access to information in promoting transparency and accountability.
“Today is indeed an important day for all Gambians. It is a day that is commemorated to remind duty bearers – the government, of our right as citizens and taxpayers to access information on what they are doing and/or not doing. The challenges they face and how we all can better participate to make our country a better place,” Njie said.
Knowing the importance of access to information in promoting transparency and accountability, he added, the civil society of The Gambia joined forces with The Gambia Press Union (GPU) to develop a broad based campaign and advocacy for a right to know regime in The Gambia.
“Access to information is considered a fundamental component of freedom of expression. When citizens are ill-informed and unable to access basic public information, it is impossible for them to fully realise their right to freedom of expression. There is a saying whenever you do not specify you leave room for speculation.”
Currently in The Gambia, he noted, the flow of information from the government to the citizens has numerous challenges. “The websites of many ministries and departments don’t have the relevant information. Most websites lack financial or budgetary information,” he stated. “Responses to written requests are always poorly handled, with instructions often not responding at all, or questioning why the applicant sought the information in the first place.”
The Tango chairman added that access to information is central to the realisation of a number of other rights.
“Where access to information is absent in a national legislative framework, citizens can’t effectively access information about basic services, fully participate in the socio-economic development of their communities or hold their government accountable for public spending, which can in turn adversely affect their rights to health, employment and education and fight against corruption.”
“We must commend this government through the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Information for swiftly acting on the draft bill sponsored by GPU and CSOs and presenting it to the National Assembly within a space of six months. This is unprecedented and must be acknowledged and commended.”
Lamin Jahateh, programme manager at the GPU, underscored the significance of access to information in any developed or developing nation, saying that the GPU together with the CSOs are working closely in ensuring that the bill is enacted by lawmakers and implemented.