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RAIC boss shares Sierra Leone’s PDI experience at OGP global summit

12 June 2019 at 02:12 | 1698 views

By RAIC media team, Freetown, Sierra Leone

The Chairman and Information Commissioner of the Right to Access Information Commission, Dr. Ibrahim Seaga Shaw has said that one of the biggest challenges his commission has been facing is that of getting all public authorities, especially ministries, departments and agencies(MDAs) to trust and see them as partners in development, who are there to support them in delivering quality goods and services to the public and to uphold values of open government such as transparency, accountability and good governance.

Dr. Shaw was speaking about the experience of the commission in its implementation of the Proactive Disclosure of Information project to delegates of the Open Government Global Summit 2019 between 29-31 May held at the ultra-modern Shaw Conference Centre in Ottawa, the political capital of Canada; the summit brought together over 1.500 delegates from 72 countries across the world.

“The Right to Access Information Commission in Sierra Leone has recently been very busy implementing the proactive disclosure of information, which is one of our flagship projects funded by the World Bank through the Public Finance Management Improvement and Consolidation Project in the Ministry of Finance, and which I am very much interested in talking about; what we have been doing and some of the challenges that we faced and how we have been able to navigate them ” he said while speaking in a session on Africa on the third and final day of the summit.

The RAIC chairman reported that the proactive Disclosure of information states that, in accordance with Part 2 Section 8 of the RAI Act 2013, all public authorities are required by law to publish twenty-two (22) classes of information, preferably on a website, which include the particulars of the organization, or MDA, its officers, policies, decision making processes, budgets, information about their board if any, information about staff recruitment, procurement, among others.

The chairman informed the gathering that in a bid to enforce compliance with the Proactive Disclosure of Information, his commission has embarked on a series of public engagement activities involving mostly state actors such as MDAs and non-state actors such as civil society organisations. He noted that the commission gave March 1 2019 as the first deadline at the launch of the PDI programme at the Miatta Conference centre on 6 December 2019. He lamented, however, that despite organizing a follow up five-day workshop in January 2019 on open data literacy involving 80 participants from MDAs and CSOs where the benefits of PDI were outlined, the deadline elapsed with only a handful of MDAs complying. He emphasized that the commission continued to engage the MDAs by organizing a round table with participants representing 60 MDAs and announcing the new deadline of 30 May which saw more MDAs complying this time around.

The Chairman and Information Commissioner of RAIC said since the establishment of the Commission in October 2014, the commission has been functioning at a slow pace but he and his regional commissioners have, with the support of their administrative and professional staff, rekindled the activities of the commission since their appointment about eight months ago and is now working in a forward trajectory in the facilitation of easy access to information.

Speaking on the challenges the commission in Sierra Leone is facing in ensuring that it meets its mandate of facilitating service delivery and promoting accountability, transparency and good governance in all public authorities, the chairman highlighted that MDAs may be feeling threatened thinking that the RAIC probes too much into their affairs and thus failing to acknowledge that ¬”we are only playing our oversight role in the implementation of the provisions of the RAI Act 2013 which provides for the right of the public to access information”, which is why the commission has been engaging them to ensure they see RAIC as partners in development, one of which is the engagement that the commission had in January this year with over eighty (80) participants; Forty (40) representing the MDA’s and forty (40) coming from the CSO’s.
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“So how do you build that trust? How do we get them to believe that we are partners in development and that we are not posing a threat to them, but that all we are trying to do is to promote open government and fight the culture of secrecy in what government officials do in their service delivery,” Dr Shaw added. He noted that it is in view of continuing to build the trust with MDAs and allaying their fears that the Commission organized the follow up public engagement events in January and March 2019 outlining the benefits of proactive disclosure of information to their service delivery and upholding a culture of openness in what they do.

Dr Shaw noted that the issue of trust becomes even more glaring when dealing with MDAs such as the police, Office of National Security, Ministry of Health that deal with sensitive data such as that which borders on national security and privacy. He said his commission has effectively used its public engagement activities to allay their fears and assure them that it would do its best in striking the balance between promoting access to information and protecting information that falls among the exemptions such as privacy and national security as provided in the RAI Act 2013. He added that this intervention by his commission may have encouraged the police department to be among the first set of MDAs to submit their Proactive Publication Scheme to the RAIC ahead of the first deadline of March 1 2019.

“One of the benefits of PDI presented to the MDAs by the commission at these events was that it would help them be in control of the narrative of whatever information they are releasing to the public. It means that you are kind of in charge of what you are saying but if you react to demand it means you would respond in a hurry which may compromise the credibility of the information you are releasing and even damage your corporate reputation”. The RAIC chairman said his commission assured participants that people would take them more seriously and would have more confidence in their service delivery if they proactively disclose information about their policies and practices.
Still on the benefits of PDI, Dr. Shaw emphasized the cost-benefit analysis in terms of using less human resources because, according to him, “if your information is already available, it simply means you would need less man power to respond to demand when people request it”. This, the chairman said, would help MDAs to be able to promptly respond to requests, which has the additional benefit of reducing the delays in responding to requests for information and thus enhancing speedy access to information far before the deadline of 15 days stipulated in the RAI Act 2013. Dr Shaw also reported that in addition to public engagement activities involving public authorities, his commission has been organizing weekly workshops with MDAs to provide technical and legal support in their compliance with the Proactive Disclosure of Information as required by the RAI Act 2013

Two delegates from Nigeria thanked Dr Shaw for his presentation and said they are facing similar challenges in their country in promoting access to information. In his contribution to the discussion, the chairman of the National Council for Civic Education and Development, Mr. Kalilu Ibrahim Totangi, who was also part of the Sierra Leone delegation to the summit, noted that in addition to the challenges highlighted by Dr Seaga Shaw, the country is also grappling with issues around digitization. He said most of the data held by government agencies are paper-based and that these needed to be digitized to increase public access to information. Mr. Totangi also called for increased efforts to encourage data utilization. The leader of the National Grand Coalition, Dr Dennis Bright, who is also Chairman of the Steering Committee of the National Council for Civic Education and Development, also attended the summit as part of the Sierra Leone delegation. Glynis Cummings–John, Senior Programmes Manager of Restless Development also attended the summit representing Civil Society.

Photo, left to right: Kalilou Totangi, Dr. Fredline M’cormack-Hale, Dr. Ibrahim Seaga Shaw and Dr. Dennis Bright

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