By Musa Sarjo
A two-day training of grassroots civil society activists on the use of the Access to Information Act, 2021 as an advocacy tool to promote transparency and accountability in local governance opened in Jarra 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 training 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 September 28-29 training, will equip participants from 25 civil society organisations with the required knowledge and understanding of the ATI law to effectively and efficiently promote access to information.
Very crucial role
“CSOs have a very crucial role to play in the application and implementation of the ATI law by using the law and creating awareness of the law to enhance democracy, ensure citizens’ participation and build greater trust in local governance,” GPU Secretary General, Modou S. Joof, said. “We want you to understand the law and be able to use it as an important tool for everyday advocacy,” Joof said.
The GPU and partners seek to support the process of operationalising the ATI law by providing training to grassroots CSOs to know their rights under the law and understand the procedures for accessing information.
The Access to Information Act, 2021 grants citizens, journalists, CSOs and everyone else the legal right of access to information that the government and private entities keep on behalf of the public.
Bintou Jaiteh, an ATI Trainer, also the Legal and Policy Officer, Article 19 The Gambia, said participants will be exposed to the concept of access to information and why it is relevant to governance.
“At the end of the training, we are expecting that the participants would have learned about the overriding effects of the act, the right to access information, and also the processes and procedures of access to information as per the law,” Jaiteh said.
The training coincides with the commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), marked annually on 28th September. According to Jaiteh, IDUAI “carries profound significance” as it highlights the pivotal role of information in shaping decisions – including electing representatives in the central and local governments – or being informed about matters of governance.
The theme for this year’s IDUAI is “the importance of online space for access to information”. “You will all agree with me that the role online spaces and portals (the internet) plays in our daily lives, both as professionals and as students, as individuals who are passionate about advocacy, and as lecturers, cannot be overemphasized,” she said.
At the end of the training, it is expected that the 25 participants for this two-day training will be able to use the knowledge gained to further create public awareness on the importance of access to information as a human right, and as a useful tool to enhance good governance.
It is also expected that the participants will encourage people in their various communities to utilise the law in order to help improve public participation in the promotion of transparency and accountability in local governance and grassroots communities.
The goal of the IFEX-supported 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.