The Gambia Government in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime and Article 19 last week conducted a two-day consultation with media personnel on a freedom of information bill.
Participants agreed on an outcome document calling for the Bill to include the following principles: provide for access to information by default for all public documents, unless stipulated otherwise by law; encourage proactive disclosure of information for a wide range of documents held by the public administration; requesting procedures should be such that access to information is easy and where applicable fees should be kept to the level of the cost of service; such procedure should cater for all categories of citizens including those not literate in English.
Freedom of information is an effective tool to ensure transparency in governance and holding a government accountable. Information is power which can provide people with the knowledge to demand their rights, such as their right not to be detained without trial. If the government enters a contract the people would want to know who is funding what, where, and to what effect.
To enable the people to exercise their right to access information effectively a freedom of information law should be enacted. This law will place an obligation on the government to store and organize information in a way that makes it easily accessible to the public, to provide information proactively and to respond positively to request for information. 'In this way citizens will be able to influence government in its actions and decisions.
The importance of sensitisation of the public and public servants who are very much used to secret government must be emphasised.