By Mammy Saidykhan
The Gambia Press Union in collaboration with the civil society coalition held a daylong national consultation on access to information, attended by 50 stakeholders, including government and civil society representatives.
The event on Thursday November 26 2020, at Baobab Hotel in Bijilo, was part of a project funded by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The project aim to address public misconceptions of media freedom and contribute to the reform of existing bad media law
Through the project GPU and the CSO coalition on Access to Information would amplify its public outreach and awareness campaign on access to information.
Speaking on the occasion, Saikou Jammeh, Secretary General, GPU, said the approaching TANGO the umbrella body for all Civil Society organisation was a right step because they knew that GPU couldn’t do it alone.
“We have gone through a process where we had to strengthen the capacity and competencies of civil societies so they will be ready to implement when the bill becomes a law.”
“ If it becomes a law we will make history, in the sense that from 1965, the Gambia never have any legal recognition of the right to Access to Information, you look at the 1997 Constitution is not there, they just recognise the right to freedom of expression and no mention of Access to information but when is pass for the first time in The Gambia, we are going to have a legal guarantee to right of access to information” he added.
John Charles Njie, Chairman Civil Society Coalition said that it is historic that for the first time The Gambia will have an Access to Information law.
“Civil society have worked together and we submitted the draft to the Minister of Information and Minister of Justice, we worked as civil society and government as partners to fine tone this draft and the draft was passed to the National Assembly in record time within the space of six-months and this calls for celebration as a nation despite challenges,” he said.
Almami Camara representative from UNDP said the popularization of the ATI bill on the different stakeholders and the public across all region in the country was identified as a strategic activity implemented by GPU and the CSO coalition.
“The importance of the ATI bill in the Gambia cannot be over emphasised, for many decades Gambians have not being able to access information like public records and information by public authorities making it impossible to engage the leaders and hold them accountable for their actions.
David Belgrove British High Commissioner to The Gambia said transparency is a fundamental right of the free people to seek and scrutinize decisions made on their behalf
“Journalists and civil society should have to access information on behalf of the population to hold those in power to account, to question decisions and actions made by governments in the name of those who elected them,” he said.
Adding that, investigative journalism is an essential element in a healthy democracy, the ATI act in The Gambia is one milestone in consolidating the democratic gains made in recent years.