Info Regulator calls for info-sharing in Africa
The Information Regulator (IR) has called on the advancement of the African Network of Information Commissions (ANIC), aimed at creating a platform for access to information on the African continent.
This emerged at a recent two-day ANIC virtual conference, themed “An Africa network for the advancement of right of access to information”, organised by the IR.
The conference was attended by oversight bodies on access to information (ATI) from Kenya, South Sudan, Seychelles, South Africa, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Tunisia, Sierra Leone and Ghana, which are all members of the ANIC Forum.
ANIC was formed in March 2019 by African governments, after recognising a need for a network focusing on access to information on the African continent. A total of 26 African countries currently have ATI laws.
It is a Pan-African, membership-based civil society network and resource centre promoting the right of access to information, transparency and accountability across the continent.
The two-day meeting was characterised by strengthening the establishment of the ANIC structure, where it adopted its charter. The charter will be the founding and guiding document for the network. It outlines how the network will function in order to ensure the ATI laws in Africa are promoted and respected.
Key issues raised during the conference were barriers and challenges to the execution of the access to information mandate by the members of the network. These included a culture of secrecy within public offices, lack of resources, accessibility and visibility to the public, legal powers for enforcement, balance of ATI laws with other laws, as well as budget constraints.
Speaking at the conference, advocate Pansy Tlakula, interim chairperson of ANIC, said she hopes all network members will work with speed, commitment and enthusiasm to get ANIC off the ground.
“This network will enable us to share experiences and strengthen our respective commissions. It strongly calls on collaboration and support from civil society to ANIC for the realisation of access to information, a human right in Africa,” noted Tlakula.
Discussing the challenges of access to information, the commissioners said the culture of secrecy in the public sector across the continent was a great hindrance in carrying out access to information mandates. They noted it needs to be clear that information in the public sector belongs to the people and not to the sector.
The commissioners also expressed the challenge of poor records management, which infringed heavily on exercising the right to access information.
ATI coalition body, the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), proposes that to address some of these barriers and challenges, there needs to be stronger collaboration between network members at regional level, capacity-building, peer learning and information-sharing, as well as joint resource mobilisation across the different commissions in Africa.
The network drafted a programme of action which contains activities to address the challenges experienced.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation also came on board. It said it would support the ANIC by assisting in the development of bilingual documents, providing online courses on ATI laws and policies, resource allocation as well as fundraising.