February 9, 2021
By Aminata Phidelia Allie,
A team headed by the Chairman of the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC) has today, Monday, 8th February, 2021, met with the minister of Labour and Social Security in its popularization drive of the Right to Access Information (RAI) Act 2013.
The meeting, which was held at the minister’s office at New England Ville in Freetown, was well attended by various heads of departments and units of the ministry.
The Commission’s Executive Secretary, Honorable Mustapha Braima, explained that the RAI was born out of the high amount of secrecy and confidentiality that has prevailed in the Sierra Leonean society where there was zero access to information. He added that because very little was known about access to information or what the RAIC is about, they have decided to embark on this sensitization drive, as even the “higher cadre of public officials have little or no interest in giving out information.” “This is why we have first decided to use the carrot approach for now”, he said.
Hon. Braima pointed out that they had already engaged several other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on the RAI issue.
The Chairman or the commission, Dr. Ibrahim Seaga Shaw emphasized that the meeting was a follow-up on several other meetings already held in relation to the RAI Act. He said the idea was to ‘up’ the process of information management and sharing.
“The Commission has a mandate to facilitate access to information between authorities and the public and public authorities,” the Chairman went on.
He explained that they needed the support of MDAs to enhance effective collaboration for sustainable development. “Without partnership it is difficult to achieve our mandate,” Dr. Shaw added.
He said MDAs needed to know their obligations as far as the RAI Act goes.
Dr. Shaw outlined some challenges the commission has encountered in the implementation of the RAI Act, like lack of harmonization between the Act and other legislations, and the culture of secrecy of civil servants as a result of the oath of secrecy they take when they assume office.
“We have not reached where we should be regarding rate of compliance with, this is the main reason for this consultative meeting,” the RAIC Chairman said.
Legal representative of the commission, Alan Benjamin Esq, pointed out that every person had a right to information, “except if the information is exempted information.”
“Many a time however, there is reluctance on the part of public officials to divulge information when requested,” the legal counsel noted.
He said public officials should be mindful of the timeline within which an information should be released when requested, according to the Act, because providing the information after the required timeline constitutes a violation of the Act which has consequences.
He advised that MDAs should not ignore a request for information from the public because it does not concern them, rather, they should transfer the request to the appropriate entity, as required by the Act. However, he added that proactiveness in the provision of information will save time. That is, information should be made readily available on websites and other places of access.
The Director General, National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), Mr Mohamed Fuad Daboh, encouraged the RAIC to also engage requesters in as much as they were engaging the information providers, so that they (requesters) know what to request for. He said the MDAs should be trained on the process of saying ‘NO’ when exempted information is involved. He said the meeting was very timely because “we are just the the process of reviewing our Act.”
The Honorable Minister of Labour and Social Security, Alpha Osman Timbo, thanked the RAIC team for the meeting, noting that it was the start of a continuous process. He assured that “the points had been sent home.”
The minister assured that the Information Communication and Technology unit of the ministry will ensure an up-to-date management and sharing of information so as to ease access. He encouraged the commission to reach out at any time, assuring them of an open door policy and more collaboration.