By Siraju Bah
The perception of some members of the public about the role and function of the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC) is somewhat misguided.
This is simply due to two main factors. The first is because they are not au fait with the Right to Access Information Law which clearly stipulates the mandate of the Commission, secondly the reasons for their misconception is that the Commission has not duly embark on a massive sensitization campaign to make the people fully aware of the responsibilities of the Commission.
Let me take the onus to clearly elucidate on the role of the Commission as enshrined in the Right to Access Information law which provides for the establishment of the Commission. The law was promulgated in 2013 mainly to provide for the disclosure of information held by public authorities or by persons providing services for them and to provide for other related matters.
The mandate of the Commission is to promote transparency and accountability but its primary roles are to;
enforce the disclosure of information,
monitor and report on the compliance by public authorities with their obligations under the law,
make recommendations for reform both of a general nature and specific public authorities,
co-operate with or undertake training activities for public authorities on the right to Access information and the effective implementation of the law,
refer to the appropriate public authority, cases which reasonably disclose evidence of criminal offences under the law, and
Publicize the requirements of this Act and the rights of individuals under it.
I would like to emphasize that, the onus to disclose information does not rest on the Commission rather, the specific MDA that hold the information.
For example, if a member of the public requires a piece of information on health, they would need to make a request for that information to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. If the Ministry does not have the information it should transfer that request to the relevant institution where the information could be found within a specific period.
In a situation where the institution refuses to comply with the request, the requestor should file in a complaint to the Commission, which has the powers of a high court that will constitute itself into a tribunal to make the necessary investigations and remedy the situation.
By and large, the primary responsibility of the Commission is to ensure that all government institutions comply fully with the provision of the Right to Access Information law and to ensure that the public enjoys it right to know.
The law provides that every person has the right to access information held by institutions of government or any other institution as long as it receives moneys from the consolidated fund or from donors on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone which includes CSOs, NGOs and INGOs.
The procedure to request for information is simple and straightforward as it was designed to enhance easy access to information. Request for information can be made in English, krio or any other local language, request should also be made in writing describing the information for easy reference.
The requestor should provide an address, which may be an email. If the information does not fall under the exempt clauses the institution to which the request is made is obliged to comply or face the full force of the law.
The Commission also ensures that all public authorities comply with the core proactive publication obligations as provided for by the law.
The proactive publication scheme further enhances the phenomenon to make it easy for the public to have a fair knowledge about all MDAs, CSO, and NGOs. The classes of information that fall under this category include;
the particulars of the organization, function and duties
the powers and duties of its officers and employees
the procedure followed in decision making process, including channels of supervisions and accountability
the norms set by the institution for the discharge of its duties
a directory of its officers and employees
the budget allocated to each of its agencies, including the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made and other relevant information outlined in the law should be published on the institution’s websites.
There is a serious challenge in implementing the proactive publication scheme because most MDAs and public authorities do not have a website. Therefore the first step should be to create a website where the information will be published.
The Commission will have to urge all public authorities to build their websites so that this part of the Act will be fully implemented.
The Commission is still working on putting structures into place in order to be able to adequately carry out its functions.
In spite of the challenges, the Commission has launched the Open Data Readiness Assessment for Sierra Leone (ODRA) and has also validated the ODRA report.
It has also successfully celebrated the International Open Data Day for the first time in the country and above all it hosted a two day Open Data Festival which brought together ICT Tech coders to develop software to aid effective open data in the country.
The programme was also used to further raise awareness about the Right to Access Information Commission.
The Commission has been working on several complaints of refusal by public authorities to disclose information, prominent among them is the Port Loko District Council.
The request was to disclosure information regarding the employment contract of the Water Station and the contract regarding the Port Loko mini Stadium. The Commission has successfully mediated and the information has been revealed.
The second request was about the WASSCE results withheld by the West African Examinations Council.
The Fontricia Foundation made a request to WAEC to release the results. When the institution refused to comply the Foundation lodged a complaint to the Commission for its intervention.
The Commission has requested that WAEC comply with the request as per the law. The Commission is determined to ensuring that public authorities comply fully with the Right to Access Information Law. The Fontricia Foundation complaint will surely be investigated by the Commission if WAEC refuses to comply with the request.
The Commission intends to hold a massive sensitization campaign across the country to make the public fully aware of its work and to encourage the public to have trust in the Commission.