From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Local News
In Sierra Leone, FOI Bill Committed to Legislative Committee
By Bampia Bundu
Nov 12, 2010, 17:08

The fight for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) has taken a further step ahead when it was on Thursday 11th November, 2010 committed to legislative committee for further scrutiny by members.

Tabling the bill in parliament, the Minister of Information and Communication Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo underscored the importance of freedom of information in a democratic and modern society.  The Freedom of Information Bill is a very important document as when approved by this House, will give the opportunity to people to access information from government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), he impressed on the honourable members, adding that it will further give opportunity to those Sierra Leoneans who may wish to access information from those institutions to do in even the local languages besides English as the official medium.  To obtain information from government institutions, the minister said the applicant would be required to pay a stipulated fee, though he maintained that the demand would not be steadfast as according to him, people who cannot afford to pay would also be accommodated. He however, hastened to caution that applications for any information should contain detailed reasons regarding the use of such information.

The minister also noted that with the introduction of such a bill, room is already being created for MDAs to start keeping records of activities in their respective departments. Sierra Leone lacks the ability to keep records as over the years Ministries, Department and Agencies have either been failing to keep their records intact, or just misplace those records, he remarked. But he iterated that with the introduction of this FOI bill it will become incumbent upon government official to start maintaining records for public access. The FOI bill is not meant for journalists alone but for any other Sierra Leonean who might want such information for genuine use, especially students and other private individuals for the purpose of research.

 In conclusion, Minister Kargbo assured that given the rich nature of the bill, its support by the House would be no misplaced consent. He in that vein entreated on the expediency of a due debate and subsequent approval of the bill.

Before making the official commitment, he took his time to acknowledge the efforts of all those who have stood by his ministry to ensure the timely preparation of the bill, including particularly the Society for Democratic Initiative (SDI), and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ).

As a succor to the ministers presentation, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Information and Communication, APCs Hon. Ibrahim Sorie noted that when the All Peoples Congress party took office in 2007 they set themselves on several agendas, one of which he said, was to re-brand the country. Several years ago people perceived government to be sensitive, powerful and fearful, but today those fears have dissipated from people due to mass awareness of on fundamental human rights, he observed. He aid the APC government is a transparent government as in his words it is only a transparent government that has the ability to pass such a bill for its citizens to enjoy their right to information. 

Hon. Sorie informed the House that the government played no small role to ensure that the bill reached where it currently stands, saying if enacted to become law, it would not only be a benefit for the APC but for all Sierra Leoneans.

Further contributions were made by other Members of Parliament, including Hon. Martin Nyuma, Hon Alhaji Ansu Kai Kai and Hon. PC Rev, Jeremiah Yovoni who gave series of analytical views and expressions of support for the passing of the bill into law.

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