For the Information Minister, Mr. Ali Demba Jawo, the unnecessary secrecy in government leads to poor governance and defective decision-making.
"We must realise that government and public sector bodies have to be seen, to be opened and transparent by nurturing access to information in order to improve public confidence and trust," Minister Jawo emphasized.
The minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure made these remarks yesterday at the opening of a two-day stakeholders' workshop on The Gambia's Freedom of Information Bill held at a hotel in Senegambia.
Organised by the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructures and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Article 19, the workshop was attended by relevant national and international stakeholders involved in the protection and promotion of freedom of information.
The aim was to bring together national stakeholders to discuss, share experiences and adopting recommendations to guide the drafting of The Gambian Freedom of Information Bill, in line with international standards and best practices.
The objective is to ensure transparency and accountability of public institutions in line with international obligations, thus The Gambian government is committed to develop a Freedom of Information Bill.
Minister Jawo in his remarks, assured government's commitment to strengthening this partnership with our organisations to ensure strong, responsive, transparent and accountable public institutions in line with international governance obligations.
The UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje, stated that the workshop is being held against the background of renewed efforts by The Gambia to initiate key reforms that would help build strong and independent institutions and processes to strengthen democratic governance in the country, this follows the challenging but peaceful transition of power last January.
The current political dispensation, she said, provides a golden opportunity to restore people's trusts in state institutions, promote respect for the rule of law, and ensure better protection of human rights.
According to her, access to information and freedom of expression is an international human rights norm embedded in key human rights instruments, Article 19 of both the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights state that 'the right to freedom of expression includes not only freedom to impact information and ideas of all kinds but also freedom to seek and receive them regardless of frontiers and in whatever medium,' this is because the achievement of governance goals require that information be widely available.
"I remain confident that the new initiatives by the ministry will be framed in such a way that it will enable all Gambians to consider and discuss ideas, engage in public debates at community and national levels, and act on knowledge and facilitate the formation of public opinion," Madam Lekoetje remarked..
She indicated that the bill should be seen not just as an essential pillar of governance intervention but as a prerequisite for addressing wide-ranging poverty issues experienced through powerlessness and lack of voice, in effect, access to information based on a Freedom of Information Bill can be regarded as key for all development interventions, including gender equality and empowerment, the environment, climate change, youth and the demographic dividend.
The minister of Justice Abubacarr Tambadou affirmed that this demonstrates the openness of which this government is willing to deal with the press. "We are not afraid of the press and we don't want the press to be afraid of us," he said, noting that as part of their reform agenda, they have included reform of media laws as part of their law and justice reform agenda in addition to reform of their criminal justice.
"We certainly see the importance of the media in a democratic society, you have absolutely crucial role to play," he noted.
He told the participants that they, as a government, want to encourage an open-door-policy so that when they want access information, they will get it because the public has a right to know. "We hope that is what the Freedom of the Information Act will provide for not just you, but the public because it will be in the interest of the public. We on our part at the Ministry of Justice are ready and willing to work with you," he promised.