February 24, 2016 By Memunatu Bangura
Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC), in collaboration with Open Data Council and Ministry of Information and Communication, with support from the Open Aid Partnership of the World Bank and other partners would be organising a two-day data festival to raise awareness about Open Data and its importance to economic development, according to Chairman of Right to Access Information Commission, Unisa Sesay.
Chairman Sesay said the maiden data festival is scheduled to take place Thursday, 21 and Friday, 22 April this year at the Miatta Conference Centre in Freetown.
He said the data festival would be remembered in the history of the country as Sierra Leone would be the second country in Africa, after Tanzania, which had been selected to host the festival.
He said the World Bank selected Sierra Leone in West Africa and that RAIC was working with ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in enhancing their capacity to organise information and to promptly respond to the needs of the public.
Sesay said the mandate of the commission was to ensure that the public demand information from MDAs, to create a demand scenario, adding that the commission has powers just like the High Court to jail and fine defaulters up to the sum of Le100 million.
“The RAIC in Sierra Leone has a clear mandate to make information available to the masses by increasing the supply of open data to the extent possible. In a similar manner, the RAIC is poised to improve on data accessibility by the masses and to make them aware of what rights they have in gaining such access, thus addressing the demand side of the equation,” he said.
While giving his keynote address, Deputy Director of Communication, Mohamed Jalloh explained that data must be legally and technically open to the public, as well as accessible and could also be used in technological environment.
“The data or content must be made available and used freely without restriction to the public,” he said.
Jalloh explained that the festival would include a symposium to commemorate International Open Data Day on 5 March, and an idea-thon in the afternoon, followed by scrapeathon sessions to start the hackathon process, which ends on 22 April.
According to him, the hackathon process would be a mentorship from Code4Africa and that local partners would encourage young developers and coders in information technology to develop their own “do-it-yourself” projects for six weeks on specific topics to include peace building and state-building, the Sustainable Development Goals, exposing gender-based violence, land and women’s rights, academia, agriculture, legal aid, the judiciary and freedom of information.
Commissioner of RAIC in the Southern Region, Yeama Thompson, said RAIC recognises that the promotion of open data, following the recently conducted Open Data Readiness Assessment, would help raise awareness and create the necessary interest from government, civil society, academia, the private sector and ordinary Sierra Leoneans.
Commissioner Thompson said the data festival 2016 would create and sustain open data awareness and its relevance to sustainable national development in the country.
She further explained that the festival aims at expanding the impact of existing open data organisations and engaging wider eco-system of open data which would feature world-class roster of speakers and experts committed to promoting sharing and using of data for socio- economic growth in Sierra Leone and the world at large.
The southern region commissioner also stated that the Open Data Festival project was one of a plethora of grassroots service projects that would take place across the nation this year and beyond in response to the president’s commitment to open government.