Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) joins the rest of the world to congratulate the Gambia upon getting new Access to Information Act which was accented to by President Adama Barrow, after the National Assembly passed the Bill on 1st July, this year. The signing of ATI Bill 2021 into law makes it the first time in the history of The Gambia for the right of access to information to be legally recognized as a human right.
“Today, I delivered on a campaign pledge. The #Right to #Information Bill was signed into law. My Government is devoted to transparency and accountability, and I believe that #Gambians have the right to information.” President Barrow.
This is an extremely exciting development for human rights advocates and the public at large in The Gambia. This proceeded a five-year-long campaign in which various stakeholders led by the Gambia Press Union through the CSO Coalition on ATI campaigned for legislation on access to information.
This is significant news not just for The Gambia, but hopefully will lead to the other 28 African countries moving in the same direction, that are yet to adopt their national ATI laws.
Achieving complete observance of the right to information in Africa requires broadening the awareness of the right with both the citizenry and the authorities. The role of civil society in the development of access to information legislation in the Gambia has been crucial. They have created awareness about the right and developed the draft bill; they have trained civil society coalitions and government agencies on access to information.
“This is a great day for the people of The Gambia, and for all of us who care about the global open and free information web that the internet has become,” said the Global Citizen, Mr. Gulnara Samahaki, President of the International Conference on Free Information Law Association.
The enactment of this Act, which aims to further human rights, is significant for many reasons.
The right to information for every individual is recognized by six African Union treaties, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, African Union Convention against Corruption, African Youth Charter, African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration and the African Charter on Statistics. International Human Rights Instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) have for a long period recognized this right.Presently in Africa, 27 out of 54 countries have specific access to information legislation. Even though the number of countries with these laws has increased in the last 10 years, achievement on the SDG 16.10.2 is still very low. Indeed, there is the need to further encourage African countries to develop and adopt access to information legal frameworks and effectively implement the measures to guarantee this fundamental right.
Access to information laws empower individuals, youth, women, people with disabilities and others are empowered by one Access to Information laws and civil society to understand the policies with which the public administration and legislators make decisions relating to health, education, trade and infrastructure and the basis for such decisions. Access to Information enables businesses to predict the environment and invest in order to take full advantage of opportunities in a fair and open competition environment. This provide for better growth and for creation, enhancing the realization of the SDG. Access to good-quality information is vital for tendering, for open competition, and for an efficient marketplace.
Freedom of expression and access to information are not just fundamental rights; they are also prerequisites for other human rights. When people have access to accurate and quality information, they can unreservedly express their opinions, and they can actively take part in their own social and economic development.
Access to information is crucial to achieve peaceful and inclusive societies. International and regional agreements consider the right to information to be the guiding principle for participatory democracies since only an informed population can effectively contribute to the construction of governments and political institutions. People need information to adequately express themselves on matters of governance, holding leaders accountable, and influencing service delivery and decision making, as well as for the promotion and protection of their human rights.
However, access to information is not just dependent on legislation. A variety of other factors affect the right to information as well, including education levels.
Civil society organizations and the government have an important role to play in ensuring that the Access to Information law is well implemented.
In that regard, AFIC recommends that there’s need to:
1. Raise awareness and conduct capacity building exercises so that citizens know their civil and political rights, especially their right to access public information from government authorities.
2. Build the capacities of civil servants at all levels of government so that they know their duty to disclose information and raise awareness of the value of transparency principles.
3. Put an oversight institution in place to enforce compliance and provide redress in cases of noncompliance.
4. Review all laws that impinge on access to information and either revoke or amend them.
9. Comply with the reporting requirement of Article 62 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
10. Ratify all treaties and protocols that have provisions for access to information.