African News

Access to information is a fundamental human right

7 January 2016 at 09:38 | 994 views

Commentary

By Siraju Bah, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Access to information is a fundamental human right and every person should be accorded the opportunity to enjoy it. Information is a very essential tool that every individual can rely on to make salient and judicious decisions regarding his future.

Where democracy and good governance prevail, access to information becomes a crucial tool for decision making. People will not make the right decisions about governance when they do not have access to relevant information that will shape their opinions regarding issues affecting their wellbeing, hence the need for an access to information law.

Civil Society activists and journalists have been clamoring for a right to access information law to be enacted in order to promote openness and transparence on the activities of government so that the governed will know how decisions are made and the way the country’s resources are spent.

In October 2013, the President gave his blessings to the Right to Access Information bill and was enacted in to law giving the public the right to request for information from public authorities making it an obligation for public authorities to disclose information to the public.

Following the enactment of the right to access information law, the Right to Access Information Commission was set up and the President appointed a chairman and four commissioners each representing one of the four regions of the country and an Executive Secretary who will be running the day to day operations of the Commission.

The Commission is up and running in spite of the numerous challenges it continues to face. Work is in progress as the Commission collaborates closely with the Open Government Initiative OGI and the Open Government Partnership OGP and has been doing an excellent job in charting the way forward for an effective and efficient implementation of its activities.

The Open Data Portal has been created to provide accurate and relevant information on government activities. The portal which was created by the Open Government Initiative (OGI) has been handed over to the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC) that will be responsible to manage it while five Ministries (Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and food Security, the Ministry of Health and sanitation, Ministry of Education Science and Technology, Ministry of Information and Communications and the Ministry of Social welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs) have been identified for the pilot phase.

Two officials, an ICT officer and a senior management officer, have been trained from each of the five Ministries slated for the pilot phase to be exclusively responsible for uploading information regarding their Ministries to the Portal.

To ensure that information posted on the Portal is accurate, the Open Data Council, which consists of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), University lecturers and government officials, has been created to monitor the accuracy of the content that will be published on the web Portal and to ensure that information posted on the portal is reliable.

The Commission has also launched the Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA) for Sierra Leone, a tool that provides guidance on how to design, implement and manage open data initiatives resulting in recommendations for key strategic actions to ensure the sustainability of an open data portal as well as open data contributions to enhance service delivery, particularly in support of the post Ebola recovery plan.

The enactment of the Right to Access Information Act will make it much easier for researchers including students, human right activists and journalists to access the information they will need in writing their research projects. A request for information will not last for more than fifteen working days. A public authority is obliged to make that information available to the person who made the request except in a situation where the information requested for has some complexities in retrieving them where the public authority will apply for an additional fifteen working days to make the information available.

Now that we have the Right to Access Information Act in place the public has the right to request for information from public authorities or any other institution receiving moneys either from the consolidated revenue fund or anywhere on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone in order to give account of resources spent on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone.

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