The Public Service Commission (PSC) in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program, Samoa Office (UNDP) through its United Nations Regional Anti-Corruption (UNPRAC) Project and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) organized a virtual webinar for the public sector to discuss the importance on accessing government information. This is part of one of the activities identified in the Public Administration Sector Plan 2021 – 2025 – which leads to the development of a “Right to Information Policy and Legislative Framework for the public Sector.”
The Chairman of the Public Service Commission – Afioga Lauano Vaosa Epa delivered the keynote address and highlighted that “the Government of Samoa has made a commitment to provide access to information held by the Government, unless on balance it is contrary to the public interest to provide that information.”
“So, when developing the new Public Administration Sector Plan, the Government recognized the need for a citizen-centered approach to addressing a wide-range of issues affecting service delivery, including corruption in all its forms. This is reflected in the long-term outcome of the Plan, where we’ve committed to achieve a ‘trusted, citizen-focused, public administration. And today’s webinar is a step towards realizing that. We acknowledge that citizen expectations of government continue to grow, and we ought to ensure that our frameworks and our policies evolve accordingly to meet this change in pace.”
She further stated that “the aim is to make more information available than what is currently accessible by the public, provide equal access to information across all sectors of the community, and provide appropriate protection for individuals’ privacy. In hindsight, providing a platform for accessing official information ensures that we play our part in promoting the rule of law, particularly as the Constitution of Samoa guarantees the right to freedom of expression. While this may be the case, we acknowledge that there is work to be done to review and strengthen the current legislative and policy framework in its entirety, to ensure it is aligned in a way that will facilitate public access to information.”
The aim for the webinar was for public servants to gain an understanding of all related aspects of right to information, including what is meant by open government and freedom of information.
High-profile speakers from the Right to Information Unit in Vanuatu, the New Zealand Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Australian Information Commission who were invited to share their experiences and best practice gave greater in-depth presentations which assisted with the participants learning and understanding of measures on accessing government information.
In essence, most of the presenters accentuated on the importance of accessing government information as it enables citizens to exercise their voices to effectively monitor and hold government to account and enter into informed dialogue about decisions which affect the livelihoods of the public. It also gave the participants an opportunity to understand some of the upcoming changes to information sharing in Samoa and recognize what their new obligations will be as public sector employees. The session also highlighted how accessing government information can contribute to practicing good governance and transparency within the public sector.
The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology is leading the development of the national right to information policy for Samoa, with the assistance of UNESCO and is working in collaboration with the PSC which will be developing the legislative framework for the said policy.
The virtual webinar was held on the 15th November, 2021 at the Sheraton Samoa Aggie Greys Hotel & Bungalows, Ball Room at Vaisigano.
The Chairman of the Public Service Commission’s speech is available here for more information.