Gambia’s Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructures in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNDOC and Article 19 with stakeholders on Thursday, began a workshop with the primary aim of guiding in the drafting of the Gambian Freedom of Information Bill, in line with international standards and best practices.

The Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Demba A. Jawo in his opening statement said the right to information is a guiding principle for participatory democracies.

“People need information to be able to adequately express themselves on matters of governance, holding leaders accountable, influencing service delivery and decision-making and for promoting and protecting their human rights,” Information Minister Jawo said.

Mr. Jawo, a former president of the Gambia Press Union who has spent years in exiled told participants that the new government recognises, and is committed to ensure adherence to all international treaties, agreements and commitments that the Gambia signed and is a party, saying they would spare no effort to meet its obligations under Articles 10and 13 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

“Governments that are liberal in sharing information with citizens are more likely to develop faster than those that withhold or give piecemeal information,” Minister Jawo asserted.

“Access to information helps the public make public authorities accountable for their actions and allows public debate,” he added.

The Information Minister said unnecessary secrecy in government leads to poor governance and defective decision-making. He emphasized that government and public sector bodies have to be seen open and transparent by nurturing access to information in order to improve public confidence and trust.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator in The Gambia, Ms Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje said the stakeholders workshop is based on renewed efforts by the Gambia to initiate key reforms that will help build strong and independent institutions and processes to strengthen democratic governance.

“The current political dispensation provides a golden opportunity to restore people’s trusts in state institutions, promote respect for the rule of law, and ensure better protection of human rights,” UN Resident Coordinator asserted.

Ms Lekoetje highlighted that access to information and freedom of expression is an international human rights norm embedded in key human rights instruments.

“The bill should be seen not just as an essential pillar of governance interventions, but as a prerequisite for addressing wide ranging poverty issues experienced through powerlessness and lack of voice,” Ms Lekoetje stated.

Meanwhile, the workshop will formulate, debate and adopt recommendations to inform the drafting of the Gambian Freedom of Information Bill.