The Civil Society Coalition on Access to Information commends President Adama Barrow for signing into law the Access to Information (ATI) Bill, after it was passed by the National Assembly on 1st July, this year.
The CSO Coalition applauds Barrow for signing the bill, a fulfillment of his campaign promise and a demonstration of his political will and commitment to transparency and accountability.
The signing of the Bill is a climax of a five-year long process in which various stakeholders led by the Gambia Press Union through the CSO Coalition on ATI campaigned for legislation on access to information.
The signing of ATI Bill 2021 into law makes it the first time in the history of The Gambia for right of access to information to be legally recognized as a human right.
The law is aimed at proactive and organised dissemination of public records and information to the people.
Chairperson of the CSO Coalition on ATI John Charles Njie said: “The Access to Information law as signed by President Barrow is in line with the wishes of many Gambians based on the feedback we gathered during the numerous consultations and sensitizations on the ATI across the length and breadth of the country.”
Chairman Njie expressed optimism that all stakeholders will join hands in ensuring that the law is implemented for the benefit of all Gambians, saying: “We hope that all individuals entrusted with the role of information dissemination will endeavour to dutifully uphold the rule of law.”
GPU President Sheriff Bojang Jr said the signing of the ATI Bill into law is a landmark achievement not just for the civil society or the media, but for The Gambia for it will go a long in fostering the culture of transparency and accountability in the public service.
Mr Bojang called on Gambians to test and use the law.
“If a law is not tested by the citizens, it becomes an empty document sitting there,” he said
With the technical and financial support of its partners, the GPU planted the seeds of civil society-led access to information campaign way back in 2016. After a series of consultative meetings with the Government and other civil society organisations, the GPU collaborated with TANGO (The Association of NGOs) to establish the CSO Coalition on Access to Information.
The change of Government in 2017 provided an opportunity for the media, government and civil society to work together towards a better Gambia. This is the first time that the civil society has worked with the Government on a legislation from conception to enactment.
From the outset, the Gambia’s Access to Information was not without international support. This came in the form of financial and technical assistance. The main part of the funding came from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) through a two-year project implemented by the GPU. Other partners including the United Nations Development Program, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office were also key.
Technical support came in different forms and shapes from the Media Foundation for West Africa, Centre for Law and Democracy, Centre for Non-profit Law, Fesmedia, ARTICLE 19, Media Rights Agenda and Gambia Bar Association.
With the signing of the ATI bill into law, the collaboration with the Government and other partners will be strengthened to creates the necessary structures and systems for the effective enforcement and implementation of the Act.
The CSO Coalition will continue to work with the Government to ensure the establishment of the requisite structures to make the ATI law functional.