Addressing the Committee, the Chairman/Information Commissioner, RAIC, Mr. Unisa Sesay said the Commission is poised to carrying out its mandate of effectively and efficiently implementing the RAI Act to ensure that public authorities comply with its provision.
He cataloged some of the achievements the Commission has made so far noting that the Commission in collaboration with the Open Aid partnership of the World Bank launched and validated the Open Data Readiness Assessment for Sierra Leone, celebrated, for the first time in Sierra Leone, the international Open Data Day, held the fest ever Open Data Festival in the country, held intergovernmental workshop and the Data Roadmap workshop sponsored by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data which attracted both local and international participants ranging from NGOs, INGOS, Civil Society Organizations and Government institutions.
He further informed the Committee that the Commissioners and Staff recently benefitted from a three day training with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) in collaboration with the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI).
In addition to the above achievements, the Chairman/Commissioner said the Commission has developed a draft Right to Access Information Regulations that will soon be forwarded to the Minister of Information and Communications for Parliamentary approval. He said the RAIC is also developing a code of practice, and guidelines to facilitate easy implementation of the Act.
Mr. Unisa Sesay however emphasized the Commission’s dire need of resources noting that it has not received allocation for the first and second quarter of 2016. He said the Commission cannot effectively function and roll out its activities when it does not have the resources to do the work. Citing the seriousness of the Commission’s predicament, the Chairman disclosed that the Commission is currently under treat of eviction for not being able to meet its tenancy agreement, saying that the Commission cannot pay its rent.
The Commissioner for the Eastern Region, Mrs. Margaret Vandi-Toronka also informed the Committee that with support from the Local Government Minister, the Commission has secured an office accommodation in Kenema along Maxwell Khobi Stree. She however noted that the office is in bad shape and therefore needs renovation but the Commission cannot afford the cost. Mrs. Toronka expressed fear of not losing the space taking into consideration the competition for accommodation in that region.
The Executive Secretary, Edward Kwame Yankson highlighted the strides the Commission has been making amidst serious financial challenges such as developing the Regulations, reviewed of the commission’s 2016 strategic plan, developing codes of practice for records keeping and management, drafting publication scheme and sensitization of the public on the benefit of the Act Saying that the Commission has been engaged in implementing activities that do not require money. “But when the Commission receives its allocation we will embarked on implementing other activities that require financial support,” the Executive secretary stated.
Given the background to the establishment of the Commission, the Hon. Member of Parliament who was also a former Minister of Information and communications, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo under whose regime the RAI Act was first drafted noted that the Commission was created with a clear focus of ensuring that unhindered access to information held by public authorities is enhanced.
He said the Commission needs to be provided with the requisite support to be able to effectively carry out its mandate. Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo encouraged his colleagues to support the Commission achieve its goals of making Sierra Leone a place where access to information held by public authorities is free, easy and efficient.
Hon. I B Kargbo in concurrence with his colleagues suggested meeting the President to inform him about the lack of resources to make the Commission functional.
The Committee agreed to have the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Binneh Bangura and the Chairman and the Executive secretary of the Commission join Hon. Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo to meet H E the President and discuss the issue with the hope of convincing him to give more attention to the Commission and provide the funds needed to take the Commission forward.