Information they say is indeed power and communication if properly managed goes a long way to build good relationships that ensure peaceful co-existence. Good governance is rooted in three basic elements: a healthy life; acquisition of knowledge and access to resources. At the heart of all this is information and communication. These twin concepts should remain alive at all times if communities are to successfully pursue their livelihood aspirations and live in dignity.
The anti – Corruption Commission’s Public Education and External Outreach Department has as its functions to educate on the dangers of corruption and the benefits of its eradication, as well as enlist and foster public support in combating corruption. The department has developed a focused, comprehensive and incisive communication strategy which has been used in carrying out its activities.
The strategy is enabling the Commission not only to educate the public on its work but also to inform them as well as encourage the public to participate meaningfully in the fight against corruption. Some of the communication approaches adopted by the commission are: Broadcast media campaign; Discussion Programs and jingles; the use of the Newspaper; the production and distribution of promotional materials, and cooperation with other institutions. In 2008 the commission was able to reach some 20 radio stations in all four regions.
With the foregoing, it is by design that one of the Ministries covered by the strategy is the Ministry of Information and communication. This ministry to a large extent has been one of the performing ones. Quite a lot of efforts have been made to reach out to the public but still much more needs to be done. There are at the moment three major outstanding issues the ministry is yet to handle. These are the Passing of the Freedom of Information Act; the expunging or review of the Seditious Libel portions of the 1965 Public Order Act for which SLAJ is seemingly having a stand-off with the judiciary, and thirdly the turning of the SLBS into a public broadcaster. The public are yet to understand how all this will be rolled out giving the initial linkages with the UN Radio and apprehensions over possible job losses in a country squeaking under gross unemployment.
One key area that features as a corruption issue is the Limited access to public information. It has for a long time been almost tradition for public officials to refuse to divulge important information even if it impinges on the sustainable livelihood of the poor and depraved. Take the case of the actual starting of the Bumbuna electricity supply to the city. It is strange that the natural/rain factor came in only when initial dates had lapsed. Well thank god we are now entering the heart of the rainy season. Proactiveness is yet to enter our communication pattern.
The NACS proffers the following actions with suggestions as to what specific things need to be done. It is recommended that there should be improved access to public information by the press and the public. Do you now see why the outcry for the freedom Of Information Act? We cannot definitely talk about a public broadcaster if we are going to cling on the things that had for so long adversely worked against acceptable standards in information management. The Commission also touches on the quality of dissemination patterns. The Ministry needs to improve on information dissemination skills of government press and Information officers.
The NACS suggests the following measures to see this through: *Provide support for and work in partnership with interest groups for the enactment of the freedom of information (FOI) Law;
*raise public awareness on access to information;
*Provide training for all government Press and Admin. Officers on how to respond to negative press reports and information sharing; *Ensure the appointment of Information focal point Officers in all MDAs;
*Hold regular press briefings, and Roundtable/workshops for Government Focal Point Officers.
All these activities should be carried out soon enough.
Anti- Corruption also picks up as a corruption issue the privileged access to the services of the state owned radio by the incumbent government. Here the NACS suggests that access should be granted to both the incumbent and the opposition to the state owned radio and TV station.
Opposition parties should be informed about their rights to access of the state owned Radio and TV stations; Hold sensitization meetings with leaders of political parties as well as management staff of the state owned media. The ministry should monitor and address complaints of limited access by the opposition.
Transparency keeps recurring in the discussions of corruption issues. The Anti-corruption discovers that there is limited transparency in the registration of mobile companies. What are the actions here? First of all the ministry should review and publish procedures and duration of registering phone companies. Even the relationship between the ministry and the telecommunications Commission. Roles have to be clearly delimited to avoid confusion over statutory mandates especially those affecting customers. Issues like who determines price changes for services. There is need to examine existing procedures and duration of registration to identify loopholes for transparency and draft a revised policy.
The improvement in communication especially the mobile phone industry should be for the benefit of the populace … it should be less a liability.
Like it is spelt out in the 2008 ACC report, in the fight against corruption the media, particularly Community radio stations have played a significant role. These radio stations have been specifically identified as most significant because of their ability to communicate in the local languages to reach out to the majority of Sierra Leoneans who may not be literate. ACC’s Public Education and External Outreach Department believes that synergy with other institutions will help to improve on the performance of the Commission. In all this the Ministry can be a viable stakeholder.
The Department has been partnering with several organizations and agencies all in a bid to add more value to their work. Indeed if we want a new Sierra Leone, we have to have a brand new people. These brand new people are those who do not only reject corruption but also resist and report it however and wherever it occurs. This is patriotism!
By S. Beny SAM