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GPU Engages Local Authorities on Duties & Obligations under ATI Law

Dec 28, 2023

By Musa Sarjo

A two-day training for local government authorities (councilors, council administrators, district & village chiefs) on the Access to Information Act, 2021 opened in Soma, Lower River Region on Thursday.

Funded by IFEX, the global network promoting and defending freedom of expression at the tune of $20, 000, the engagement is part of a 12-months project implemented by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) to “strengthen right of access to information in rural regions and communities in The Gambia”.

The December 28-29 training, which is being conducted in partnership with the Gambia Association of Local Government Authorities (GALGA), is intended to increase knowledge and understanding of the law among local government authorities and also to raise awareness of their duties and responsibilities in the implementation of the law.

In his keynote statement, the Mayor of Mansakonko, Laniding B. Sanneh, said that “the role of local government authorities is very important in the implementation of the access to information act, 2021.

“Local governments are closer to the people than the central government, and access to information will enable the people to know and understand how their tax money is utilised by the Councils,” he said. “Times are changing; it is therefore important for Councils to move towards ensuring greater transparency and to be accountable to the people by ensuring access to information.”

GPU Secretary General, Modou S. Joof, said local councils, as public administrative bodies, are tasked with the responsibility of gathering, documentation, and dissemination of information to the general public either proactively or reactively. “As per the law, local councils have a duty to create, keep, organize and maintain information in a manner which facilitates access to information,” Joof said.

A study by the pan-African research network, the Afrobarometer, released on 23rd February, 2023, shed light on the lack of access to information generally from local government authorities and to a great extent, a lack public of trust in these institutions.

“It is therefore very important that today’s engagement is taking place in the context of the Access to Information law which is meant to promote transparency and accountability,” Joof said. “This two-day engagement will discuss the benefits of the law, the obligations of local councils and administrations, and the challenges of implementation of the law and how such challenges can be addressed.”

The Access to Information Act, 2021 grants the citizens, journalists and everyone else the legal right of access to information that the government and private entities keep on behalf of the public.

The Alkalo of Soma, Demba Darboe, said expressed his appreciation to the GPU and its partner, IFEX, for bringing this initiative to their doorstep. “It is the right of everyone to know what their representatives are doing on their behalf. Local authorities should be able to come back to the people and tell them what they have done as this is a duty they owed to the people,” he said.

Amadou Jallow, the Programme Manager of GALGA, said this is an important engagement that GALGA is happy to be associated with. “This meeting underscores our collective commitment to democratic governance, transparency, and responsiveness in our local government structures by placing value to people’s increased access to information,” Jallow said on behalf of the GALGA President.

The goal of the project is to strengthen the democratic process in rural regions and rural communities in The Gambia by promoting the right of access to information both in knowledge and practice among community journalists, local government authorities, grassroot civil society organisations, and members of the public.

The objective of this particular engagement with local councils and authorities is to build the capacity of local government authorities to know and perform their duties and responsibilities of facilitating access to information as per The Gambia’s ATI legislation.

At the end of this activity, it is expected that local authorities will be able to continue utilising the knowledge gained and be both proactive and reactive in disclosing public information.

As part of this project, the GPU conducted a training for community radio journalists (in August) on the use of ATI law for news reporting and ensuring transparency in local governance.

In September, we also conducted a training for grassroots civil society organisations to increase their knowledge and understanding of the law, and for them to be able to raise awareness in rural communities.

The final part of project to be implemented in 2024 includes community radio talk shows on the Access to Information law.

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