Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI) in collaboration with the Freedom of Information Coalition in Sierra Leone has joined the rest of the world in the commemoration of the Open Government Week by assessing the implementation of the Right to Access Information Law and its impact in reducing corruption and improving the delivery of public service across the country.
In an exclusive interview with NewsWatch, the Programmes Director, George Mustapha said that the Right to Access Information (RTI) law, was enacted in 2013, based on a broad consensus on the importance of RTI laws in enhancing transparency and accountability, thus reducing the opportunities for corruption but that evidence of the impact of the law remains scarce in Sierra Leone, as public officials and Institutions are still finding it difficult to comply with the legislation.
Mr. Mustapha further stated that their researches have found out that access to information has positively correlated to the control of corruption, but the actual impact of RTI laws seems to depend on a series of other factors, adding that as demonstrated by several studies, the RTI laws alone cannot have a positive impact and help in the solution of specific cases.
He also said that the law is unlikely to bring sustainable change if not effectively implemented and accompanied by other measures, such as guaranteed freedom of press and association, effective checks and balances mechanisms, including the prosecution and dismissal of public officials found to be involved in corruption, and coherent policy responses to problems detected in service delivery.
The SDI Programme Director emphasised that the successful implementation of RTI laws require a strong leadership and political will as well as the establishment of independent and well-resourced oversight institutions, a clear legal framework and appeal mechanisms, training and capacity building of public officials, and awareness raising activities, adding that in their last publication for the commemoration of the Universal Access to Information Day, the Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI) joined hundreds of organizations around the world to commemorate the day by critically examining the State of affairs in Sierra Leone after the enactment of the Right to Access Information law over five years ago.
Mr. Mustapha also said that despite achieving the significant milestone by enacting the law, the Report highlighted several challenges in the implementation stage, stemming from lack of political will to implement the human rights, transparency and good governance legislation, refusal to promulgate a RAI Regulation, which have further affected the work of the commission and denied citizens their rights to access public held information and added that the report further highlighted that some Ministries, Departments and Agencies have no clue about the right to access information laws and thus are violating their obligations under the RAI Law with ferocious abandonment.
Mr Mustapha went on to say that the lack of a records management system was identified as a reason for slow implementation and that the Ministry was made to target such challenges.
He however hastened to add that in an assessment conducted one year down the line, they were able to note that the Right to Information Commission, in collaboration with the Open Aid Partnership of the World Bank, launched and validated the open Data Readiness Assessment for Sierra Leone and celebrated for the first time in the country, an International Open Data Day and first ever Open Data Festival, adding that the Commission also held intergovernmental Data Roadmap workshops sponsored by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, which attracted both local and international participants ranging from NGOs, INGOS, Civil Society Organizations and Government institutions. He said they are also aware that Commissioners and Staff of the Commission have benefitted from training with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) in collaboration with the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI).