Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Sierra Leone Parliament enacted into law, the Right to Access Information Act, 2013.



The Sierra Leone Parliament enacted into law, the Right to Access Information Act, 2013 otherwise known as, the “Freedom of Information Act.
Freetown, Sierra Leone  29th October, 2013
  The Minister of Information and Communications, Hon. Alpha B.S. Khan in presenting the Bill told parliamentarians and members of the public that the Right to Access Information has today become a human right component in the administration of modern States aimed at promoting transparency, good governance and accountability. An important feature of the bill, the Minister said, is that which has to do with efficient records keeping within Ministries, Departments and Agencies and even Non-Governmental organizations.
Records keeping among State and Non-State actors had collapsed over the years, and it is the fervent belief of the Minister that with the advent of the Right to Access Information Act, Sierra Leoneans will inculcate the art of record keeping and the development of libraries and archives.
Khanu in his usual confident and convincing posture allayed the fear of some parliamentarians who were of the belief that the Right to Access Information Act is aimed at giving Journalists a field day to poke into the private lives of public officers. He said the exempt clauses in Part 111 of the Act are the safeguards for individual’s personal lives, traditional societies and that of our national security.
“The Act does not favour Journalists in the strict sense of the word, rather every citizen including Researchers, academics and the ordinary man at Krubola in Koinadugu district stands to benefit from this Act”, Khanu emphasized.
Hon. Frank Kposowa of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s party in his contribution informed the House that Sierra Leone has joined 94 countries in the world including 11 countries in Africa that have enacted the Right to Access Information Bill. He said the Bill is designed to fight against ignorance and make way for an open government initiative… “It is designed to restore human dignity and to usher in effective monitoring of Government expenditure. This will build up confidence in the system.” He concluded.
The passage of the Right to Access Information Act 2013 has further increased His Excellency, Dr. Ernest Koroma’s democratic credentials. Upon assumption of office in 2007, he committed himself to ensuring that every citizen has access to timely and accurate information by creating institutions like the Open Government Initiative (OGI) where citizens have direct access to the President and all State functionaries through town hall meetings to explain Government’s policies and programmes uncensored.
The creation of the Office of the Government Spokesman and the hosting of weekly Press briefings at the Ministry of Information and Communications further demonstrates President Koroma’s genuine commitment to transparency and accountability in the governance of the State.
The Right to Access Information Bill was first introduced to Sierra Leone’s Parliament as a Government motion by the former Minister of Information and Communications, Hon. Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo in 2010 and committed to the Legislative Committee on two occasions.


29 October 2013 - -COCORIOKO  International

Sierra Leone: New law promotes transparency
Long-Awaited Information Act Could Spur Greater Government Openness

The Sierra Leone parliament’s passage of a freedom of information law is a major step to ensure greater government transparency, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Sierra Leone’s Freedom of Information Coalition said today. The new legislation, enacted today, is crucial for effective, transparent, and accountable governance. The Right to Access Information Act establishes a right to access government information and requires all parts of government to adopt and widely disseminate a plan for making records publicly available. The legislation also imposes a penalty for willful obstruction of its provisions.

The law was first proposed in 2003 but has languished in Sierra Leone’s parliament since 2010. President Ernest Bai Koroma must now sign the act for it to enter into force. “One of the most important things in Sierra Leone right now is for everyone to have the right to information,” said Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, executive director of the Society of Democratic Initiatives, which coordinated the Freedom of Information Coalition’s campaign for the bill’s passage. “Sierra Leoneans can’t hold elected officials to account without access to basic information about what the government is doing.”
Sierra Leone is recovering and rebuilding from a long and brutal armed conflict that ended in 2002. With foreign investors returning to the resource-rich country, the government is leasing land for commercialized agriculture and mining. Some affected residents who have sought more information or challenged these deals have faced reprisal ranging from harassment to arrest. Freedom of information is recognized as an essential element of the right to freedom of expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international instruments.
By passing this law, Sierra Leone’s government is significantly advancing its commitment to international and regional human rights obligations. Donors to Sierra Leone, as well as other multinational bodies, have called on the government to increase transparency and adopt other good governance and rule of law measures. Passage of the law would enable Sierra Leone to meet the minimum eligibility requirements to join the international Open Government Partnership, which meets in London from October 31 to November 1. Sierra Leone has applied to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which works to improve openness and accountability about how revenues from natural resources get managed. But its bid was suspended in February, pending further information, because of insufficient documentation of mining revenue and company payments.
Transparency of government information in Sierra Leone has been hindered by the country’s criminal libel law, which the authorities invoke against journalists, civil society members, and others who criticize the government. On October 25, two journalists from a privately owned newspaper, the Independent Observer, were arrested, charged with sedition and other offenses, jailed, and denied bail for criticizing President Koroma. “If fully and effectively implemented, the new information law can help transform Sierra Leone into a model of transparency and rule of law for all of West Africa,” said Solomon Sogbandi, Amnesty International Sierra Leone Director. “We urge the president to show the necessary leadership and political will by signing this long-awaited bill into law.”

For more information, contact: In Freetown, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai (English, Krio), Coordinator, Freedom of Information Coalition, +23276647456; +23233647456 or In Dakar, Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus (English, Spanish), Amnesty International, +221 338642664 In New York, Rona Peligal (English), Human Rights Watch, 1-917-363-3893 or

My thanks to COKOROKO International -


Hon. Ibrahim Bundu lectures on Rights to Reputation as Right to Access Information (RAI) bill gets enacted.
By Jeneba V. Kabba
  The bill entitled Right to Access Information (RAI) Act of 2013, on Tuesday 29 October 2013 got enacted. The bill which was piloted by the Minister of Information and Communication, Honourable Alhaji Alpha Kanu, was unanimously approved by the entire membership of parliament. The debate, prior to it being passed, however saw one of the respected elected parliamentarians, Hon. Ibrahim Bundu of Port Loko, stand up to lecture on the need for rights to reputation to also be honoured by those journalists demanding their rights to access information.
Hon Ibrahim Bundu, who is the Deputy Majority Leader of the ruling All Peoples Congress in Parliament, said, with the enactment of the bill, journalists will now have an unprecedented access to huge volumes of information. He pointed out that though concerns had been raised about the potential for unscrupulous journalists to abuse their rights to access information, the APC has always been determined to ensure the rights of citizens to access information, was promulgated.
Hon. Bundu went on to cite the constitutional provisions that the ruling party adhered to in order to push for citizens to be given access to information. He debunked claims that any external force was responsible for the APC-led government to push the bill through. It can be recalled that at his first press conference called up after his re-elections, President Koroma had categorically stated that the RAI bill will be enacted shortly.
In the Well of Parliament, Hon. Bundu continued his submissions by acknowledging that those journalists who believe in character assassination will be tempted to tread on dangerous grounds but he strongly cautioned them that the State will not sit by and allow such attacks on rights to reputation to be tampered with.
“It was a famous philosopher who once said that if you lose you wealth, you do not lose anything. If you lose your health you have lost something but if you lose your reputation, you have lost everything,” the Hon. MP asserted.
“There is no supermarket in the world where one can walk in and buy a bottle of reputation that has been lost. You can buy a lot of things but you cannot buy reputation that has been lost”, Hon. Ibrahim Bundu disclosed. He therefore ended his lecture by advising all practicing journalists to stay within the laws of the land. He said if they just obey the laws governing their profession, they will be on “safe ground and be on the right track”.
Similar sentiments were expressed by other MPs. In his contribution, Hon Andrew Lungay of the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party(SLPP) representing Kenema District said some journalists are doing remarkable jobs but he lamented that some others were just horrible. The MP further advised media practitioners to consider insurance for their establishments, their employed reporters so that in the consequence of being levied to pay damages, the Insurance company will pay.
Adding to the debate the Deputy Minority Leader of SLPP in Parliament, Hon. Ansu Kaikai said with the enactment of the RAI bill, yellow journalism and malicious libel will no longer be entertained as journalists now have the right to request and receive correct information. Hon. Kaikai said speculative journalism will now be frowned upon.

As a sample of the initial debates, I re- produce below (with kind permission) a brief Facebook discuss betwen John Baimba Sesay and Sourie Turay, following John Baimba Sesay's original posting, which I find very interesting.

  John Baimba Sesay  Beijing, China      Initial post

The enactment of a law guaranteeing access to public held information is a clear manifestation of the country’s commitment to the principles of good governance especially in relation to openness. FOI law, no doubts serves governance in a number of ways: it underpins elections, ensure accountability, central to participatory democracy and a prominent tool in tackling corruption. The Government, through its Ministry of Information and Communication deserves commendation. And thanks to Minister Alpha Kanu and his team for this great achievement. This apparently indicates the commitment of the Koroma led administration to ensure we move in line with president day good governance practice for which I am proud as a Sierra Leonean. Watch out for my take on this in the form of an article….

This promted an initial debate between Sourie Turay and John Baimba Sesay
  • Sourie Turay This is clearly a good move and we hope the devil does not lie in the details. As you prepare your article, remember we have a template agreed in 2005 and what you need to clarify would include the Information Commissioner, his role and reporting line and whether he will be independent; the Publication Scheme which tells us what we should generally expect to get and timeframe; the Exemption Clauses which tells us in clear terms what we are not entitled to. We need to know how this whole Act will sit with the basic Constitutional provision to the right to privacy and in the absence of any Data Protection Act to what extent the FOI may actually conflict with the Constitution. Look forward to reading your take!!
  • John Baimba Sesay After the enactment,we now talk about the infrastructure needed and thereafter we get the structures in places....this is realistically commendable on the part of government
  • Sourie Turay That cannot be true. The Act will tell us about the structures. That is an integral part of any FOI so you do not have an Act and then talk about the "infrastructure needed" as if to say it is an enabling Act. The minister himself referred to it as a "human right" and it is not something you leave to the minister to pass by regulations. But we labo here because we are only past the First Reading and unless it becomes an emergency bill, we have a way to go yet. You begin to worry me already with your grasp!!!
    John Baimba Sesay Sourie Turay be realistic here is clearly clear that the structures will only come after the enactment,like having the office space,the personnel u referred to amongst others....I have been an advocate for this for years as I was Information Officer for Society for Democratic Initiatives ,the body that has taken the lead in this campaign.... The fact that the law is there is an indication of the country's readiness to get things up and running. Bro or sister
    Sourie Turay We are not talking about people rather we talk about an office for which there is a clear provision in the Bill. Let us forget about your credentials for a bit my friend. If the Bill provides for a Commissioner, it will tell us what that Commissioner will do; it will tell us whether he is independent or has a reporting line. If the minister talked about an Exemption Clause recognising our "traditional" values then the Bill like FOI Acts every place on earth will talk about Exemption Clauses and above all, it must talk about the Publication Scheme because that is what the essence of the law is. We are not talking about whether John Baimba will be the Commissioner or whether his office will be in WSilberforce Street, we talk about what in the eventual Act makes it worthy of our jubilation at what is after all and by any definition a historic step. If you were what you tell us you were, you would at least know these fundamentals and I will bet you my life that when the Bill becomes law, it will have all those specifications I have outlined and it is the extent to which those are restricted or expanded that will make it a truly historical Act. I can tell you cover to cover what the original draft drawn up with Article 19 says and it is against this that the eventual law will be judged!!

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