By Yunus S Saliu
Marking the second anniversary of the signing of the Access To Information (ATI) in The Gambia on Friday, 25th August 2023, Yankuba Saidy, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information reiterated that the government of the Gambia ventured into this unprecedented collaboration with CSOs to affirm its resolve to expand the remits of participatory democracy.And also, to “lay the impeccable foundation for active CSO collaborations in the nation-building process and finally align itself to global trends and best practices through domestication of international human rights charters,” he added.The ATI Act 2021 implementation status press conference held at the Ministry of Information Conference Hall, Kanifing was jointly organised by the Gambia Press Union and Partner – CSO Coalition on Access to Information in collaboration with the Ministry of Information.PS Saidy said the existence of this sunshine legal instrument arises on the heels of an unprecedented collaboration between government entities and civil society organizations unified
and energized by a collective resolve to advance democratic pluralism through the wholesale adoption of an open governance system.Democratic governments, he indicated, draw legitimacy from the mandate of the majority to exist and render services in the pursuit of public interest. Therefore, in such a setting, there exists a clear agency relationship between the fiduciary responsibilities of a government and the citizenry.“Access to Information Act 2021 provides the legal basis for obtaining information held by public entities and is a condition precedent for the catalyzation of information and knowledge societies in the Gambia. Therefore, the crystallization of information and knowledge societies in The Gambia remains the high-end goal of the Ministry of Information.”He assured that through symbiotic collaboration and consultative dialogue, the Ministry and CSOs will use available frameworks to permanently efface dictatorship-era legal instruments to assure a predictable and safe operating environment for all players and actors in the information industry.He recalled and said “In an attempt to lay specific emphasis on the vibrancy of the information value chain, His Excellency President Adama Barrow through an executive proclamation decoupled the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure (MOICI) into two Ministries on 4th May 2022. The Ministry of Information emerged as a standalone Ministry with specific precision on the information sector comprising of GRTS, GPPC, and the Department of Information Services.”Meanwhile, John Charles Njie, Chairman of the CSO Coalition on ATI dilated on the progress made so far on the AIT since the Act was signed two years ago while noting that the Gambia Press Union, which serves as the Secretariat of the CSO Coalition on ATI in collaboration with development partners and members of the Coalition have so far implemented several activities geared towards supporting the implementation of the ATI law.He lamented the challenges of the ATI as a country saying “The Roadmap which was supposed to give direction and serve as a strategic plan for the implementation of the Access to Information law submitted to the Ministry of Information 28 November 2022, have not been adopted by the Ministry as the National Roadmap. Instead, the Ministry has decided to develop a new roadmap – a clear duplication of efforts and a waste of resources. This has significantly affected the implementation of the law as the Ministry currently lacks a clear direction for the operation of the law.”The Chair of the CSO Coalition highlighted opportunities the ATI law will provide as it will play an essential role in the country’s democratic process.