Freedom of Information
The freedom of information program is SDI’s biggest legislative and policy advocacy program. Started in 2005, when SDI took leadership of the Freedom of Information Coalition, the campaign has leaped into one of the most successful civil society driven law making process.
Freedom of information law is the legal instrument that empowers citizens to access public held information. It operates on principle that government officials are custodians of information on behalf of the people and the people have the right to seek and receive that information anytime.
SDI drafted Sierra Leone’s freedom of information bill in 2005 and garnered supported from members of parliament, government ministers, international and local civil society organizations and the international community.
In order to popularize the concept of freedom of information and the draft bill, SDI and the used the strategy of coalition building by bringing together over two hundred civil society organizations under the ‘Freedom of Information Coalition’ to provide a broad base campaign. This loose coalition has attracted many more organizations and has regional semi-autonomous branches in the East, North and South.
Also, through the Coalition, SDI has organized awareness raising workshops, seminars and technical group discussion throughout the country. These events helped raised awareness on the benefits of freedom of information for the ordinary Sierra Leone and build consensus on the campaign.
Two parliamentary workshops have been organized to raise awareness among the law makers on freedom of information in 2008 and 2009 targeting specific parliamentary committees. The Legislative, Information, Human Rights and Transparency Committee were targeted during the first workshop at Hotel Kimbima, in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The second workshop brought together all the members of parliament in Committee Room No. 1 at the House of Parliament.
On the 9th January 2009, the SDI, through the coalition organized a nation-civil society workshop in Makeni bringing together over one hundred civil society organizations to discuss the way forward in the freedom of information campaign. As an outcome, the “Makeni Declaration” was issued calling on various stakeholders to help in the freedom of information campaign.
On the 15th January 2009, SDI executive Director, as a guess of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, presented the draft Freedom of Information Bill the H. E. Ernst Bai Koroma at his State House Resident. President Koroma pledged his government’s commitment to passing the freedom of information bill and generally to running the country in a transparent and accountable manner.
Out of the meeting with the president on the 15th January 2009, posters and handbills were printed with the picture and utterances of president and plastered all over Sierra Leone to commit government further to the president’s overt commitment to FOI. Additionally, jingles, dramas and radio discussions were organized around the president’s support.
On the 9th March 2009, the bill was again presented to Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Abdul Tejan Cole, who pledged his commission’s support for the passage of the Bill. He stated that the Anti Corruption Commission would be more effective with the freedom of information bill passed into law.
In June 2010, after several close door discussions, the Minister of Information finally tabled the bill in Cabinet for discussions and approval. According to sources, only two minor changes were to the SDI draft bill: i.e. including secret societies on the exempt areas and raising the lucid period for refusing to access certain information from twenty years, as was initially stated, to thirty years.
The numerous activities and progress wont have been possible had it not being for the generous financial supports from:
- National Endowment for Democracy – NED provides core institutional and some FOI program support to SDI for the past four years of varying sums ( $ 25,000 in 2006- 07; $ 28,000 in 2007-08; $ 33,000 in 2008-09; $ 37,000 in 2009-10)
- Open Society Institute for West Africa – provided USD $ 80,000 to help up the campaign and to build coalitions on FOI in Sierra Leone. This project is still ongoing.
- Partnership for Transparency Funds - provided a USD $ 25,000 grant for specific aspect of the freedom of information campaign