Gambia’s Minister of Information, Demba Ali Jawo said unnecessary secrecy leads to poor governance as efforts ramp up for the country to pass the freedom of information bill.
Jawo said the right to information is a guiding principle for participatory democracies since only an informed population can effectively contribute to the construction of governments and political institutions.
Jawo had worked as a journalist in The Gambia during the era of ex-autocratic ruler Yahya Jammeh, who was very secretive and oppressive.
Journalists were subjected to arrest and prosecution on flimsy grounds and laws were used to deny them access to information leaving many new stories to speculation.
“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,” Jawo said.
“It is worthy to point out that access to, and exchange of information, is vital in settling the development of a country. Governments that are liberal in sharing information with citizens develop faster than those that withhold or give piecemeal information.”
The withholding of information forced journalists to probe deeper into the ex-regime’s work, which led to the arrest, torture, prolonged detention, and killing of journalists in the country, many resorting to flee to neighboring nations.
Gambia’s new government has decided that the asset declaration of its minister will not be made public, citing concerns over privacy.
Journalists have said they will be forced to privately investigate and release reports of assets of senior officials to unmask corruption in the country.
According to activists, there will be no need for the ministers to declare their assets if the government has no plans to make them accessible to the public.
The Gambia has axed some colonial age laws like sedition and defamation to ensure press freedom. The Jammeh regime had used colonial laws to protect and entrench itself by suppressing the press.