On the occasion of this year’s International Day of Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) which is being marked globally on September 28, the Media Foundation for West Africa urges governments, the media and civil society in West Africa to collaborate to establish a culture of open and transparent governance through the enactment and effective implementation of Access to Information (ATI) laws.
In this regard, authorities of West African states are encouraged to ensure that citizens are empowered to demand accountability from public institutions by using ATI mechanism.
To this end, the MFWA is also working with its partner organisations across West Africa to ensure a proper and extensive understanding of the laws by citizens of the various countries.
Ghana’s RTI Law was passed in March 2019 and came into force in 2020 with the establishment of an RTI Commission mandated to ensure compliance. The MFWA has since been commended in Parliament and awarded by the Right to Information (RTTI) Commission for its activities to promote and test the Law.
Convinced that RTI laws would be pivotal in promoting accountability and a game-changer in the fight against corruption, the MFWA decided to roll out a comprehensive project of awareness creation and capacity-building among citizens.
Since the IDUAI celebration of 2022, MFWA has organised training workshops that have benefited about one thousand citizens. From November 24, 2022, the Media Foundation for West Africa has been organising series of training workshops on Ghana’s Right to Information (RTI) Law for radio stations and citizens across Ghana. The workshop hosted over fifty (50) citizen groups in Tarkwa, Bogoso, Prestea, and Obuasi, all of them within the mining hub of Ghana. The MFWA also built the capacities of four (4) leading radio stations in these communities in using the RTI Law to develop stories as well as ensure accountability in the regions.
Training workshops have continued into 2023. Beginning in April, the MFWA conducted a series of one-day capacity-building workshops for citizens in the Ashanti and Greater Accra regions of Ghana on the country’s Right to Information (RTI) Law. The beneficiaries who were made up of students, journalists, traditional and religious leaders, youth advocates, businessmen and women, teachers and persons with disability were exposed to the RTI law and application processes. The one-day workshops educated the participants about Ghana’s RTI law and equipped them with the capacity to request information on their own. The training workshops aimed at enhancing the participants’ ability to demand accountability, particularly at the local governance levels.
To complement the output from the training workshops, the MFWA set up the Citizens Access to Information Support Centre. The Centre provides support to applicants who are using Ghana’s RTI law to request information from public institutions either at the local, regional or national levels. It also provides guidance on how the public, particularly, the vulnerable and marginalized in society, can request information or appeal a decision using the law. General questions about the right to information law, including the processes and requirements are answered when applicants reach out to the Support Centre. A dedicated email and telephone line and WhatsApp platform have been provided for that purpose.
Still in its efforts to deepen public knowledge about the law and its implementation, the MFWA published a Q&A, explaining the application process, the fees applicable, the process of appeal among other key elements of the RTI law.
To enhance the implementation of the Gambia’s Access to Information (ATI) Act, 2021, the MFWA’s partner organisation, the Gambia Press Union (GPU) held a two-day workshop for 20 journalists on the ATI legislation on February 9th and 10th.
The Gambian, Minister of Information, Lamin Queen Jammeh, who graced the occasion said “Access to Information is a basic human right and it enhances informed decision-making and encourages participation in national development.”
The Gambia is yet to formally implement its RTI law and establish the RTI Commission. The MFWA is therefore working with the GPU and the Ministry to ensure that the right mechanisms are put in place for the effective implementation of Gambia’s RTI law.
The MFWA is also working with its partner in Guinea Bissau, Sindicato De Jornalistas e Tecnicos De Comunicacao Social Guinea Bissau (SINJOTECS), to promote access to information in Guinea Bissau.
On Friday, July 15, 2022, the two organisations, officially launched a three-year project titled Promoting media freedom and access to quality information in Guinea Bissau. The project is funded by the EU (Guinea Bissau) and seeks, among others, to strengthen the capacity of media organisations and practitioners to produce quality, fact-based and ethical content, using information derived from credible sources. While the Guinea Bissau Constitution guarantees the right to access public information, the enabling legislation is yet to be passed. The MFWA and SINJOTECS are collaborating in advocacy for the passage of the law.
ATI laws, if effective, can empower citizens to demand effective public service delivery, ensure value for money in the execution of public works and contracts, as well as promote openness and transparency in public administration. It is a critical ammunition in the anti-corruption legal arsenal. The MFWA is therefore committed to its promotion and urges all actors to collaborate towards passing and effectively implementing RTI laws as an integral part of efforts to fight corruption, promote accountable governance and uphold human rights. It is also urging all stakeholders to maximize the use of online spaces for proactive disclosure of information.