February 5, 2015 By Sheriff Mahmud Ismail
Sierra Leone passed the Right to Access Information Law in 2013 and joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2014. In its action plan submitted to the OGP, government committed itself to launching an open data initiative. Then, it planned to go one step further to ensure its information is not only accessible, but open to the public in a way that allows users to explore, analyze and reuse such information.
To this end, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED), Dr. Kaifala Marah, in May 2014, formally endorsed the Open Aid Partnership (OAP) and its principles, making Sierra Leone the newest partner. Dr. Marah had requested the support of the OAP, which is hosted in the World Bank, to help improve access to development project data and to build the capacity of local stakeholders in that regard.
The OAP is a multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together governments, development partners, civil society and media groups to collectively improve aid transparency and effectiveness. It has successfully provided such support in about 20 other developing countries.
Following the minister’s request, the OAP, on 15th May, 2014 conducted a workshop in Freetown on geo-referencing development projects. This means the government, with support from the OAP, will be collecting and publishing data about where development projects are taking place at the local level in Sierra Leone. The workshop was an initial step in collaboration with MoFED. The World Bank and the Sierra Leone government were already identifying sources to finance this project and get it started before the end of 2014 when Ebola struck.
As the country tries to rid itself of the Ebola disease outbreak, it may be important that this open initiative is kick-started as part of the recovery process.
Emmanuel Abdulai, Executive Director for the Society for Democratic Initiative and Sierra Leone’s foremost advocate for the promulgation of the Right to Access to Information Law asserts that, “Sierra Leone is at a stage where development assistance should be opened to the general public. This will enhance transparency and accountability that the Right to Access Information sanctioned”. He went on to say that “this will further practicalise Sierra Leone’s openness commitment in the National Action Plan to the OGP; it will be a good beginning in the post recovery”.
John Baimba Sesay, Sierra Leone’s Information Attaché to China, agrees but added that “accountability and transparency are so important to national development that their achievement should be an all-inclusive endeavour extended to civil societies, non- governmental organizations and even international organization. Everyone should feel comfortable to promote and practice transparency and accountability”.
In the meantime, the government had taken some important steps towards improving public access to data on development projects through MoFED’s Development Assistance Database (DAD) (http://dad.synisys.com/dadsierraleone/). Managed by the Development Assistance Coordination Office, DAD publishes information on development projects, including donor agencies, dates of implementation, funding amounts and project objectives.
According to the president of the Development and Economic Journalists Association, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, “This is exactly what the media has been clamouring for a long time. Access to information is a cornerstone in our work and this initiative could not have come at a better time”.
This initiative comes on the back of the desire by development partners, government and the general public to know: where these projects are taking place at community level; which chiefdoms and communities are receiving projects; in which sectors; and which chiefdoms are lagging behind; how many development partners are funding which projects; and how can they better coordinate their activities to enhance project results.
Francis Ato-Brown, World Bank Country Manager in Sierra Leone, expressed the view that, “It’s important to know who is doing what and where. This will make for better coordination and allow resources to be channeled to other needy and unserved communities”.
OAP’s support will ensure that once the data have been collected, they will be visualized on interactive mapping platforms, such as the OAP’s Open Aid Map (http://openaidmap.org/) and published on government websites.
The expectation is that, collecting and publishing this information will help to improve project planning and donor coordination. This is also expected to engage Sierra Leoneans in the development activities taking place around them. It will also promote transparency and accountability around development projects.
Coordinator of Non-State Actors, Amadu Sidi Bah, asserted that “this will significantly enhance our work in terms of monitoring and evaluation of development projects; it will give us a clear direction regarding where to go, what we should be looking for and who to talk to”.