By Lamin B. Darboe
Information Officer, PMO
A legal practitioner and Access to Information (ATI) trainer at the Ministry of Justice has said that ATI law serves as a major tool for preventing and fighting corruption and promoting transparence in civil service.
Mr. Muhammed B. Sowe made this remark during a week-long training on Access to Information Act 2021-Roles and Responsibilities of Information and Communication Officers held at Management Development Institute (MDI) from 13th-17th June, 2022.
Participants were drawn from government Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs) and parastatals thus organized by the Management Development Institute (MDI) and fully funded by the various participants’ institution.
According to Mr. Sowe, journalists, Civil Society Organizations and ordinary citizens can use the law to expose corruption and wrongdoing.
“ATI enhances democratic accountability and good governance because it enables the public to scrutinize the actions of public institutions and public bodies and assess their performance,” Mr. Sowe explained.
State Counsel Sowe said ATI refers to the right, which members of the public in any society have to access information held by government officials and institutions.
All citizens of any country and indeed all members of the public he added, are entitled to enjoy this right, emphasizing that the right to information usually recognizes some limitations and that some types of information need to be kept secret.
According to Mr. Sowe, information exempted may include national security information, personal information, sensitive commercial information, information protected by professional privilege, amongst others.
But even though, there should always be a legal duty on governments to justify any refusal to disclose any information to the public adding that information is key to human existence.
“ATI is critical for decision-making, be it an individual or as an institution. Its importance is key in relation to personal, professional, business and political decisions,” he stated.
State Counsel Sowe explained that the quality of decisions we make as humans often depends on the quality of the information that we have, while adding that if we have no information, we probably will not be able to make decisions and we wouldn’t also know what to do because we do not know the options that are available to us.
In his own words: “If we attempt to make decisions in ignorance, the quality of the decisions we make would probably be very poor. If we have bad information, then we would most likely to make bad decisions”.
According to State Counsel Sowe, ATI law enhances our dignity as human beings because of its ability to enable more effective individual decision making, whether on personal, professional or political issues.
He further explained that it also facilitates business decisions and good practices as commercial users can access information on economic matters held by public institutions and make better business decisions.
State Counsel Sowe also emphasized the need for Heads of Public institutions to register for the MDI’s ATI training for executives.
State Counsel Sowe mentioned that ATI framework typically encompasses; the right of individuals (or citizens) and entities to request information from government bodies and sometimes private bodies and the right of individuals and entities to view or receive copies of documents or other records held by government or relevant private bodies.