President Barrow signs Access to Information Bill into law

The Media Foundation for West Africa welcomes the signing into law of The Gambia’s Access to Information (ATI) Bill and commends the government and civil society actors in the country for the historic feat.

President Adama Barrow yesterday assented to law the ATI Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly on July 1, 2021.

The signing of the Bill crowns five years of advocacy and stakeholder engagements in which various stakeholders led by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) through the CSO Coalition on ATI campaigned for legislation on access to information.

The adoption of the ATI law is in keeping with the 2016 campaign promise by then opposition coalition led by their presidential candidate, Adama Barrow, to use its first mandate to dismantle Yahyah Jammeh’s autocratic legacy and lay the foundations for democratic and accountable governance in The Gambia.

By adopting the Access to Information (ATI) law, the Gambia has shed its unenviable image as the only defaulting country in Anglophone West Africa. It previously shared that dubious reputation with Ghana which adopted a Rights to Information (RTI) law in 2019. Liberia did so in 2010, Nigeria in 2011 and Sierra Leone in 2013) as part of the transitional changes the three countries underwent after years of political turmoil. About 24 African countries have adopted RTI laws with the West Africa sub-region leading the pack.

While congratulating the government and people of The Gambia on the successful adoption of the law, we wish to urge the stakeholders to continue working together to put in place the appropriate administrative mechanism for the effective implementation of the law.

The signing of ATI Bill 2021 into law makes it the first time in the history of The Gambia for right of access to information to be legally recognised as a human right. The law is aimed at proactive and organised dissemination of public records and information to the people.

Chairperson of the CSO Coalition on ATI John Charles Njie said, “the Access to Information law as signed by President Barrow is in line with the wishes of many Gambians based on the feedback we gathered during the numerous consultations and sensitizations on the ATI across the length and breadth of the country.”

Chairman Njie expressed optimism that all stakeholders will join hands in ensuring that the law is implemented for the benefit of all Gambians, saying: “We hope that all individuals entrusted with the role of information dissemination will endeavour to dutifully uphold the rule of law.”

GPU President Sheriff Bojang Jr said the signing of the ATI Bill into law is a landmark achievement not just for the civil society or the media, but for The Gambia for it will go a long in fostering the culture of transparency and accountability in the public service.

Mr Bojang called on Gambians to test and use the law.

“If a law is not tested by the citizens, it becomes an empty document sitting there,” he said.

With the technical and financial support of its partners, the GPU planted the seeds of civil society-led access to information campaigns 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 change of Government in 2017 provided an opportunity for the media, government and civil society to work together towards a better Gambia.

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