By John Baimba Sesay -Freetown
Deputising His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh on Friday,15th May, launched the National Open Data Portal at the Credentials Hall,State House, Freetown.
Speaking,at the event,Vice President Foh said,the launch of the Open Data Portal today, was a milestone continuation of government’s zeal for openness and transparency.
“In our modern world, communications through electronic media is becoming a major way of ensuring transparency; more information could be transmitted via electronic means, and this Portal will utilize this new means of communication to reach out to many more people”,Vice President Foh said.
According to Vice President Foh, Government established the Open Government Initiative to open up the avenues for communicating with our people. Through government’s meet-the-people tours and other information- driven programs “we have leveraged inclusive governance and have progressively positioned ourselves as a country with rich credentials on inclusiveness. ”
Few countries in Africa,the Vice President said, have freer spaces for discussions on most topics than Sierra Leone. From radio discussions, to television, to newspapers to the social media, Sierra Leoneans,he said, were increasingly very engaged in discussing matters of relevance to this country.
The establishment of the Portal,he went on, will ensure Sierra Leoneans have access to more facts when discussing matters; “we are establishing this Portal to improve discussions based on facts rather than speculations; we are establishing this portal to advance the maturity of discussions over the radio, on newspapers and in the social media.”
Speaking on governance, the Vice President said, the country is today a forerunner in open governance in Africa as were amongst the first to transform the government’s Broadcasting unit into a publicBroadcasting and, in the process greatly increase the diversity of views on television and radio.
“We are amongst the first to legislate access to information; amongst the first to launch open discussions of matters between the heads of the three branches of government and ordinary people; and amongst the first to be involved in the Open Government Partnership and amongst the first today to launch this Open Data Portal.”
The country, Vice President Foh went on, still has challenges, but that “we are moving faster than most countries in Africa and the world at large to improve access to information; and by the establishment of this Portal, we are also moving faster than most countries to ensure quality public conversations based on facts.”
It is because of these credentials, he said, that we were today prominent partners of the Open Government Partnership in its global drive to ensure information free-flow between governments and their people.
“Because of our actions, we have attracted the support of the World Bank, through its Open Aid Partnership, in establishing this very important Portal.”
The Vice President applauded the World Bank for what he called an “affirmation of faith in our transparency efforts” whilst also applauding the Steering Committee of the OGP which had been tasked with drawing up a National Action Plan that would serve as a blueprint for OGP engagement in Sierra Leone.
According to Vice President Foh, the first and eleventh of such commitments are the signing of a Public Integrity Pact with 5 MDAs and the establishment of an Open Data Portal and ” we are here to bring to life these two commitments in the National Action Plan.”
The Open Data Portal,Vice President Foh went on, is a national Registry for providing comprehensive information on the affairs of government as It will give Sierra Leoneans opportunities for leveraging diverse information on government for comments, suggestions and questions.
In the short term,he said, the portal will provide information relating to the Ebola crisis and government’s response to it. “In the medium and long term, it will be expanded to include additional information relevant to economic recovery, public services, and also, open contracting data, budget data and data on development assistance.”
The Open Government Initiative,he said, will work closely with Ministries and other Departments and Agencies to maintain the Portal by introducing more datasets reflecting the diversity of our country.
Climaxing the event was the signing of an Integrity Pact with five pilot MDAs in a bid to improve public trust in public service delivery and ensure more effective accountability of public officials.
This,the Vice President said, was in line with section 8 of the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008. “The pact with 5 MDAs shall represent a pilot phase and it is to clearly identify services provided, timeframe to expect service to be delivered and associated costs developed and displayed with clearly visible complaints mechanisms.”
The Public Integrity Pact will serve as the first step towards creating a Public Integrity Policy that will serve as a safeguard measure for improving timely access to public services. The pact will promote ethical and proactive performance by public officials in the discharge of their duties.
Vice President Foh said, there was no stopping this forward march, and that the “Portal is a testimony of our commitment to advance matured discussions of matters of great relevance to the development of our country.”
Chairing the event was the Hon.Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Alpha Kanu who underscored government’s commitments to ensure an opened and accountable government.
The event was attended by Government Ministers, Civil Society activists,Council Chairman,Paramount Chiefs,Development Partners and the Media.