Stakeholder workshop on the Freedom of Information Bill of The Gambia

Outcome document

From 10 till 11 August 2017, the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and ARTICLE19, convened national stakeholders to discuss a Freedom of Information Bill for The Gambia.

In line with the Gambian government’s commitment to ensuring transparency and accountability of public institutions, this meeting aimed at initiating discussions with stakeholders with the view to facilitating and informing the development and drafting of a Freedom of Information Bill in compliance with international standards and best practices. This is the first step and will be followed by a series of broad-based consultations.

The meeting brought together representatives from the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, the Ministry of Justice, the Office of the President, The Gambia Press Union, Civil Society and the media. Furthermore, international experts took part in the proceedings, notably representatives from UNODC, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), ARTICLE 19, and the Liberian Independent Information Commission.

Following two days of intensive discussions, sharing experiences and best practices, the participants agreed to the following:

Acknowledging that the right to seek, receive and impart information is a human right, which is essential for a free and democratic society;

Recalling the international obligations and commitments at global and regional levels concerning freedom of information;

Recalling in particular Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, recognizing freedom of information as a fundamental human right;

Recalling Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, stating that the right to receive information is open to everyone;

Recalling the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption promoting transparency in the public and private sector, notably Article 10 on “public reporting” and Article 13 on the “participation of society”;

Recalling the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, in particular its Article 9 on Access to Information;

Recognizing good practices in the region and around the world, including the Liberian Freedom of Information Act;

Acknowledging common challenges in the implementation of freedom of information legislation experienced in the region and around the world, such as budget allocation, enforcement, poor record keeping, etc.;

Acknowledging the current challenges to freedom of information in The Gambia, resulting from a culture of secrecy nurtured under the past regime;

Recognizing that effective legislation is needed to secure the right to freedom of information;

Acknowledging the Model Law on Access to Information for Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;

Recognizing the relevance of the nine (9) principles on the right to know developed by Article 19 to ensure effective fulfillment of the right to information;

  1. Encourage the Government of The Gambia to take into account the following principles to inform the drafting of the Freedom of Information Bill and further stakeholder discussions on the Bill:
  • RIGHT OF ACCESS:
  • Provide for incentives and clear deadlines for releasing information with a view to encouraging a culture of disclosure in the public administration;
  • Support education, training and awareness raising for civil society, the media, and the general public on their right to information and for public officials on their obligations to share information;
  • Review the oath of office for public officials obligating them to secrecy;
  • SCOPE:
  • Provide for access by default for all public documents, unless stipulated otherwise by law;
  • Encourage pro-active disclosure of information for a wide-range of documents held by the public administration;
  • Provide for regular press briefings and encourage sharing of information by government departments with the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure;
  • REQUESTING PROCEDURES:
  • Provide for a formal request procedure whereby requests for information are acknowledged by the public administration and, in case of refusal to grant access to information, make it mandatory to provide substantive reasons in writing;
  • Include an oral request modality to allow illiterate citizens to make requests, albeit encouraging those requests to be tracked in writing;
  • Allow for requests to be made in English and other languages;
  • Limit costs to access information only to photocopying costs and related logistical costs;
  • EXCEPTIONS:
  • Only allow for restrictions in line with human rights standards, i.e. restrictions that pursue a legitimate interest, are necessary and proportionate;
  • Clearly define permissible exceptions, in particular, the use of concepts such as national security and public order;
  • APPEALS:
  • Provide for a multi-level appeal process, including to a public body, an independent administrative body and the judiciary;
  • Empower an existing independent administrative body in the Gambia to deal with appeals, subject to court review;
  • SANCTIONS:
  • Provide for dissuasive sanctions, including a minimum fee as sanction, for public officials refusing to adequately respond to access to information requests;
  • PROMOTIONAL MEASURES:
  • The Gambia Human Rights Commission, The Gambia National Council for Civic Education, The Gambia Press Union, all public bodies and journalists ought to promote access to information;
  • Use local languages to promote the Freedom of Information Act, once adopted;
  1. Encourage the participants to promote these principles and to make the necessary efforts to support the development and adoption of a Freedom of Information Bill in The Gambia;
  2. Express their appreciation to the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure for holding this stakeholder consultation on the Freedom of Information Bill of The Gambia, with support from UNODC and ARTICLE 19.

Done on 11 August 2017 in Banjul

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