By Abdoulie John

Gambian journalists on Wednesday started the process of getting more closer to guaranteeing a more open society. The start the validation workshop on the draft Access to Information Bill 2019 (ATI Bill 2019), first in the history of the country, will allow government records to be accessible to the public for effective oversight.

“In recognition of the democratic right to freedom of expression, the government of The Gambia under the stewardship of His Excellency, Mr Adama Barrow wishes to ensure that all laws relating to of expression are consistent with the Constitution and international best practices,” said State Counsel Naffie Sissoho Bangura in her opening statement delivered at the two-day validation workshop, which is being held at Baobab Hotel in Bijilo.

Since the advent of the new democratic dispensation, the government of the West African nation has been embarking on massive institutional and constitutional reforms aimed at turning the country into a true democracy. As a major stakeholder in the transition process, Gambia Press Union (GPU) has been instrumental in the formulation of the proposed legislation.

Mrs Sissoho-Bangura who deputized for Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Aboubacarr Tambadou, reiterated government’s commitment to creating a transparent, pluralistic and democratic society.

“The Ministry of Justice in particular, is very passionate and committed about creating and opening a democratic space by engaging and encouraging civil societies to take the lead in the successful drafting of the access to information bill; all in the best interest of the society,” she added.

She expressed hope that the proposed bill would serve as ‘an imperative tool to hold government accountable to the Gambians at large.’

John Charles Njie of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) pushing ahead with an Access To Information (ATI) agenda seized the opportunity to commend authorities for being committed to enacting a bill that will go down in history as the most progressive move taken by The Gambia government.

“We may be coming late. But last does not mean least,” he said.

Njie, who also doubles as TANGO Chairperson, reminded journalists that the bill is not confined to journalistic work, adding that it will encompass all sections of society.

Sharing her thoughts on the drafting of the bill, Advocate Hawa Sesay Sabally explained how she was able to blend the African Union document  with the Interamerican model in order to come up with a draft bill, which is expected to respond to people’s expectations.

Hawa Sisay-Sabally also disclosed that the drafting task took into consideration The Gambia’s obligations. “The bill deals with public institutions,” she said, adding that the proposed legislation has gone through series of review.

Other speakers include the President of Gambia Press Union Sheriff Bojang Jr. and Gambia Bar Association President Salieu Taal who lauded the government’s plans table the Bill before lawmakers gor adoption in December.

Ends

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