The Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC) calls on all public authorities, especially those in the frontline of the prevention and response efforts, and members of the public to provide public access to credible corona virus (COVID-19) related information in their stride to support Government’s effort to prevent and stop the spread of the epidemic in Sierra Leone. The Commission is cognizant of the compelling public interest in the outbreak of such a deadly global pandemic that has brought a myriad of challenges across sectors and disciplines, and notes that these challenges are not unconnected with access to information rights.
Information is of critical importance in every aspect of human life. In line with Sustainable Development Goal 16.10, having access to information is having access to resources that make it possible to enjoy a healthy life and other related human rights, as well as having awareness of major challenges facing humanity. The Commission believes that the COVID-19 pandemic can only be contained in Sierra Leone if there is credibility in the information disseminated about it by public authorities and members of the public. As the global news channel CNN puts it: ‘In times of uncertainty, facts provide clarity’.
“It is in this light that the RAIC joins the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) to promote proactive disclosure and access to credible coronavirus-related information and widespread awareness of measures to control and prevent the spread of the virus in their countries of jurisdiction and globally, and above all promote transparency and accountability in how public funds are used in the collective response to prevent its spread and support those in desperate circumstances as a result of the global pandemic”, said Dr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, RAIC Chairman and Information Commissioner.
As the government heightens its surveillance, contact tracing of confirmed cases, and testing measures, and the just concluded lockdown, the Commission seizes this opportunity to call on all public authorities and members of the public not only to proactively provide access to credible COVID-19-related information, or provide access to it when requested, but to also follow the established channels to access such information. The Commission firmly believes that this is needed to build public trust in the transparency and accountability of service delivery and avoid the spread of fake news about the pandemic. Moreover, in this way, we are sure to avoid the mistakes of the response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014, where according to evidence, lack of access to credible information largely contributed to its rapid spread and destruction of many lives, as well as lack of public trust in the way in which public and donor funds were expended to control it and ease the suffering of the public.