The ousting of a dictator has left Gambians with the arduous task of cleaning the mess as well as normalising the terrain. But the country’s new leadership is laying the foundation for a Gambia where citizens will reap the benefits of access to relevant information. Unlike the Jammeh dictatorship that promulgated harsh laws to punish and contain journalists, the Barrow government wants to break access to Information hurdles or barriers It is for this reason that Gambian authorities last week initiated a two-day consultative session with media practitioners to discuss on the essentials of the Freedom of Information Bill. Held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Kololi, the stakeholder workshop was organized in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) and Article 19.
In his address, the Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure Demba Ali Jawo reiterated the government’s commitment to establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.
“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 open and transparent by nurturing access to information in order to improve public confidence and trust,” Mr. Jawo said.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje said commitment to shift 22 years of bad governance towards a sustainable direction which is compliant with United Nations Convention against Corruption. But the achievement of government goals requires the availability of information to all.
“As rights holders, citizens must be allowed to demand from government for accessible and understandable information on policies,” the UN Resident Coordinator said.
The Gambia’s Justice Minister also spoke at the stakeholders workshop. Abubacarr Tambadou expressed the government’s readiness to provide the democratic space for Gambians to develop. In that he said the government will “help, guide and not control debates. We want to encourage an open-door policy so that when you need information, you will get it,” Tambadou stated in an attempt to assure journalists who are ‘fed up’ with the country’s deep rooted culture of secrecy.
This session comes on the heels of public pronouncements by President Adama Barrow that his government favours constitutional reforms that are geared towards consolidating and strengthening democracy.