Information commisioner chosen, journalists celebrate move

Published on 9 May 2013 in News
Sadeq Al-Wesabi (author)

Sadeq Al-Wesabi


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Journalists and human rights activists have been the biggest supporters of the right to information law, which requires all government ministries to disclose requested public documents. (Photo courtesy of Motasm Abdulsalam)

Journalists and human rights activists have been the biggest supporters of the right to information law, which requires all government ministries to disclose requested public documents. (Photo courtesy of Motasm Abdulsalam)

SANA’A, May 8 — About one year after approving a law that grants citizens and journalists alike the right to request public information from government ministries, President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi appointed Samir Amin Noman as the information commissioner on Monday.

The appointment is an essential step to implement the law as the information commissioner will be the point of contact for anyone who is denied requested information by the government. Noman’s office, which is an independent ministry and has its own budget, will receive complaints of violators of the law.

“The commissioner can question any officials including ministers,” said Parliamentarian Abdul-Moez Dabwan. He urged the commissioner to exercise his “great powers” to boost the culture of social accountability.

Official military information is off limits to citizens and journalists. Yemen is the second Arab country to approve a law of this kind after Jordan.

Noman is an information systems specialist and previously worked for the Social Fund for Development. He graduated in 1994 form a university in the United States with a degree in computer sciences.

Noman is excited about his new role but foresees challenges.

“We need to establish information units in every governmental institution,” he said.  These units would be the point of contact for anyone seeking public information.

This will be expensive Noman says and take time.

“No institutions allocated budgets for these units this year,” said the new commissioner, who is temporarily running his office from the presidential compound until he receives official offices.

Several activists and journalists welcomed Noman’s appointment, saying he will help the public gain access to needed information.

“Information had been hidden for years and this contributes to the spread of corruption,” Ahmed Al-Zikri, the chairman of Yemen Organization for Promoting Integrity (OPI) said. “Officials considered information a secret of the state.”

Al-Zikri indicated the new appointment will empower citizens to observe and question the officials and urged Yemenis to take advantage of the law and Noman’s appointment.

For more than four years, a law regarding the right to access information was fiercely debated in Parliament as General People’s Congress (GPC), one of Yemen’s major power players knocked it down.

Noman is not without his critics though. “We need a strong information commissioner who can put pressure on the governmental institutions to expose information,” said Mostafa Nasr, a journalist and the head of Studies and Economic Center, who added that Noman is not well-known in the media community.

“We would keep observing his performance during the next days,” Nasr said.