The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) salutes The Gambia’s passing into law of the Access to Information Bill 2021 and looks forward to President Adama Barrow eventually assenting to it to give meaning to the constitutional right of Gambians to access information.
The National Assembly of the Gambia approved the Bill on July 1, 2021, a major milestone in the country’s march towards genuine democracy in the post-Yahyah Jammeh era.
“Access to information is a critical element of transparent governance and a prerequisite for citizens’ participation in public discourse from an informed position. Without access to sources of information, media freedom becomes an empty theory and accountability to the citizens is undermined. This is why The Gambia’s move towards giving its citizens the legal right to access public-interest information is a huge step forward,” said Muheeb Saeed, Programme Manager for Freedom of Expression at the MFWA.
After Ghana adopted a Right to Information RTI Act in 2019, The Gambia was left as the only defaulting country in Anglophone West Africa, Liberia having done so in 2010, Nigeria in 2011 and Sierra Leone in 2013. Globally, over 120 countries have such legislation, 23 of them in Africa with the West Africa sub-region accounting for about 50%.
The Parliamentary endorsement of the ATI Bill in The Gambia is a product of the collaborative effort of the Gambian Civil Society which worked closely with the Government through the Ministry of Justice. The Bill was first tabled in 2019 and went through rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.
The Bill is aimed at proactive and organised dissemination of public records and information to the people.
“I want to commend the National Assembly members not just for passing the Bill, but also for debating on the Bill purely on its principles and benefits to society, devoid of partisan politics,” the President of Gambia Press Union (GPU), Sheriff Bojang Jr. said in reaction to the passage of the Bill.
The GPU, MFWA’s partner organisation in the Gambia, initiated a civil society-led access to information campaign way back in 2016. After a series of consultative meetings with the Government and other civil society organisations, the GPU collaborated with TANGO (The Association of NGOs) to establish the CSO Coalition on Access to Information.
The Chairman of the Coalition, John Charles Njie, said the change of Government in 2017 provided an opportunity for the media, government and civil society to work together towards a better Gambia.
The MFWA is delighted that our work with the GPU in support of the process is yielding fruits. We applaud the media and civil society, The Gambia Bar Association and foreign partners who provided funding and technical support for the great collaboration leading to the passing of the Bill. We also commend the Ministries of Justice, and Information and Communication Infrastructure for leading the process on the side of the government of President Adama Borrow who has demonstrated great commitment to the cause. The MFWA is confident that President Barrow will assent to the Bill within the 30-day legal limit to complete the process.
The MFWA, together with GPU, will continue to work with the CSO Coalition on Access to Information to intensify its awareness campaign about the legislation to make sure Gambians understand and are able to utilise it.
The passage of the law is one thing, and its implementation is a completely different matter. It involves the setting up of the necessary structures and systems for the effective implementation and enforcement of the Act. This is only possible if there is a genuine political will to empower citizens with information. We wish to credit the government of President Barrow with good faith in this regard.