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Sierra Leone: Clerk of Parliament assures SLAJ on FOI Bill

SLAJThursday june 27, 2013 Clerk of the House of Parliament has explained reason for the delay in passing the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill into law but assured journalists that the bill is seriously under consideration and will be ratified immediately the necessary structures needed to ensure easy access to information are put in place.
Hon. Ibrahim Sesay, who was addressing the executive of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) who had paid him a familiarization visit to whip-up support for the ratification of the FOI Bill and the repeal of Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965, said the Bill should have been enacted long ago had facilities that would guarantee journalists and the wider society easy access to information been set-up.
“What is holding this Bill [from being passed into law] is the necessity to first organize the information itself in a way that you can access it easily either in the library or some other public places,” explained the Honourable Clerk of Parliament. “I refer to it as the ‘Access to Information Bill’ because the Constitution already makes provision for freedom of information. You already have the freedom to get information; all you need now is how you can access that information.”
Hon. Sesay, who served two parliamentary terms before assuming the position of Clerk of Parliament, informed SLAJ that they are currently developing the House’s library, and that by the time the FOI Bill is passed into law, the facility would have been ready to meet the information needs of journalists and Sierra Leoneans in general.
“Our challenge is having the information in the library. We’ve started collecting information from all sectors and once the Bill gets through, journalists can have access to whatever information they may require, which by law we’ll be obliged to make available,” Hon. Sesay said.
However, the Clerk also spoke about the importance of journalists handlinginformation provided them responsibly and not use it to jeopardize the security of the State.
“Also important is trying to know who the information being requested is meant for. We do not want to see a situation wherein information being provided to people finds its way in the hands of al-Qaeda. But I think the Bill will seek to address the issue of misuse of information,” he said.
Moreover, Hon. Sesay lauded the initiative by SLAJ to partner with Parliament to push forward issues that will serve the greater majority. He said throughout his experience in Parliament 10 years as a parliamentarian and about three years as Clerk the visit was the first officially being made by a SLAJ president and his executive to Parliament.
He thanked the SLAJ president, Mr. Kelvin Lewis and his executive for choosing to partner with Parliament in not only ensuring the legislating of the FOI Bill and repealing of the criminal libel law, but also in highlighting the issues that affect society generally.
He briefed the team on efforts being made by his office, in collaboration with the Public Relations Unit of Parliament, to strengthen and capacitate the Parliamentary Press Gallery with specialized training that will enhance their work. He said the Gallery, which comprises of 50 parliamentary reporters from various media houses, will soon be provided with an office space and gadgets they need to make their work more effective.
“With SLAJ now coming onboard, I think the partnership will go a long way in fostering a good working relationship between Parliament and the media,” he said.
Speaking earlier on, SLAJ president Kelvin Lewis said he and his executive were in Parliament to build a proper working relationship with the House to help enhance the democratic process in the country. Parliament, he said, is an important institution in State governance and that as the umbrella body for all journalists in the country, SLAJ appreciates their support to the Press Gallery.
“We’ve come to you as head of administration in Parliament so that you can show us how we can build a good working relationship with Parliament and the rest of the MPs,” said Mr. Lewis. “We have some specific objectives which have to do with the work of Parliament, but also we have specific needs which we want to bring beforeyou. We are not vast in protocols but we’ve come to ask for your direction as to how we can work with this present Parliament to see that our needs are met for the benefit of all of us. We are happy for the way you’ve received us, and also for the education on the FOI Bill.”
The SLAJ boss also raised the issue of Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965, for which he said his executive needs the support of the entire House for its repeal. “The misconception is that we are calling for the repeal of the entire Act, but this is not the case. My administration is actually asking for the decriminalization of libel,” he argued.
In his response, the Clerk of Parliament assured that he will facilitate an engagement between SLAJ and the Legislative Committee ofParliament “so that you will have an opportunity to present your argument”.
Director of Public Relations in Parliament, Cyril Juxon-Smith, said he was pleased about the visit, which he said has never been done before by a SLAJ executive. He thanked the Clerk for granting audience to the Association.
Meanwhile, the Clerk presented to Mr. Lewis on behalf of SLAJ a book titled, ‘Essay on the Sierra Leone Constitution, 1991′ written by Dr. AbdulaiConteh for the Association’s membership to enrich their knowledge in readiness for the debate on the Constitutional Review process.
Moses A. Kargbo
Secretary General
+232 33 421350 / +232 76 345930

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