The CSO Coalition on Access to Information is a consortium of more than 50 civil society organisations in the country working on various areas such as children’s right, women empowerment, local governance, health care and so on.
Based on their areas of interest or thematic areas of operation, the coalition is further grouped into nine clusters, including the cluster on academia, cluster on good governance & anti-corruption, local governance cluster, youth cluster, children & gender, and music & theater clusters. Cluster heads are required to meet once every four months to strategize and discuss the way forward, so far three has been done.
It was members of these various clusters who were trained and sensitized on the need for an access to information law in The Gambia, the importance of such law and how it benefits the various sectors.
The training was organised as part of a one-year GPU project on building national consensus on access to information which is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy
The objective of the training was to educate cluster members on the importance of Access to Information 2019 Bill, passage of the bill, implementation and monitoring processes when the bill is adopted. Discussions were also centered around advocacy, with emphasis on Gambians in grass-root level.
Sheriff Bojang Jr. gave a brief background of the draft bill, initiated by Gambia Press Union. He stated that Access to Information is a fundamental human right as declared by the United Nations general assembly in 1946 and if the bill is adopted, it would greatly enhance our emerging democracy.
John Charles Njie thanked the Gambia Press Union for not only initiating the process but also including civil society organizations in the Gambia to lead and actively take part in the development of the legal framework for access to information. Mr Njie also thanked the government and ministry of justice for participating in the development of the Bill.
GPU Secretary General Saikou Jammeh gave the participants a run-down of the passage process, stating that the bill was drafted and developed by a prominent Gambian lawyer Hawa Sisay Sabally. He acknowledged the ministry of justice for assigning 3 members of their staff to assist in the process. According to the GPU Secretary General, the bill has been reviewed by the International Center for Not-for- Profit Law and Centre for Law and Democracy noting that based on global ATI ratings ATI 2019 draft Bill, Gambia ranks 16th globally. Mr Jammeh encouraged the participants to take ownership and engage their National Assembly members to help pass the bill.
At the end of the three-day workshop, participants were well informed about the draft ATI currently before parliament for enactment. They assured each other that they would take the responsibility to educate their various constituencies and also engage National Assembly Members to vote for the bill.