Karamoh Kabba Delivers Keynote Speech on Access to Information in Sierra Leone

10 June 2008 at 02:37 | 1175 views

Mr. Chairperson,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
The Fourth Estate,
Members of Civil Society,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

His Excellency the President Ernest Bai Koroma and the Minister for Information and Communication Hon. I.B. Kargbo could not be here today for a very important reason. I am here to deliver this speech on behalf of the President and the Minister of Information and Communication. They have asked me to express their deepest apology to you.

I must first hasten to state that one of the longest histories of democracy in Africa characterizes Sierra Leone, though interrupted by a decade-long civil war and military regimes between 1991 and 2002. In 1961, this nation gained its Independence with relative ease through peaceful negotiation at Lancaster House in London. In 1967, we offered Africa one of the very first examples that a government in power could be unseated through elections. Compared to other established democracies, it is worth noting that ours is still a young democracy.

Mr. Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliament, it is therefore safe also to state that the prolonged civil war in our country was partly because of the people’s steadfastness to be governed by democratic governments as opposed to being ruled by military regimes.

Mr. Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliament, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is also a truism that democracy does not end with electioneering alone. And until all the tenets of democracy are upheld with unwavering willpower by the governors and the governed, sustainable democracy often would remain a fallacy in many countries.

And what happens when democracy becomes such a misconstruction in a nation?

The people stand to suffer the brunt of bad governance and to resort to demanding their God given human rights through the ballot box. In turn, governors with erroneous belief in a fallacious democratic assembly who insist on holding on to power by all means often a time, their government evolve into one of the following; autocracy, aristocracy, despotism or dictatorship, that in turn cause chaotic assemblies when the people demand their human rights by violent demonstration.

Here in Sierra Leone, we have had our share of such kinds of developments that often lead to arm conflict. Our recent past is marked by the decade-long war characterized by some of the most egregious war crimes against humanity. For that reason, we must laud the Society for Democratic Initiative’s partnership with government to arrest such development in it track through such an open forum for open dialogue between the governors and the governed on the importance of the Freedom of Information.

The Right of Access to Information is one of those canon principles of democracy that when upheld would ensure a sustainable democracy in a society: Therefore, government must acknowledge the fact that the right of access to information is a foundation for citizens participation, good governance, efficiency in public administration, accountability, human development, social inclusion, and the realization of other socio-economic and civil and political rights. It will also help to combat corruption, aid the media with information gathering and render investigative journalism needless.

The government of Sierra Leone and the Ministry of Information and Communication believe in all the International regulations and charters of human rights vis-à-vis Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

The international human rights charters provide for the seeking, receiving and imparting of information, which is impossible without a strong believe in the Freedom of Information.

Honourable Members of Parliament, as benefactors of this workshop, I am hoping that you will leave here today with much information that will help government to create an environment that would help us to benefit from all the great things that come along with a truly open society in which information flows freely without impediment.

Without much a do, you will all agree with me that the right to access to information also promotes efficient markets, commercial investment, competition for government business, fair administration and compliance of laws and regulations. We stand to reap great benefits by creating an open society where information flows without impediment.

Collaborating with the media, the civil societies, the public and the private sectors is very vital in accomplishing a very business friendly society in Sierra Leone. An easy free-flow of information initiative will develop confidence in government that will in turn attract investment in the private and public sector economy, especially in direct foreign investment.

I must also take the opportunity to remind this august assembly of lawmakers, the fourth estate, members of the civil society and citizens that though our government has made some strides in the information access area of governance such as the launching of the Open Government Initiative (OGI) that is mandated to bring government to the people and aid the media with information gathering, and the revision of the Public Order Act that is underway, our country is yet to enact a national right of access to information legislation.

In view of the above, I hope that we will all return with the right information that will help our country and its leaders. I must state that I am truly honoured to be the keynote speaker on behalf of Government. And for the Society for Democratic Initiative, yours is a noble cause and I thank you all.

On behalf of His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma and the Hon. I.B. Kargbo, I now humbly declare this workshop open.