Liberian FOI Law Backed; Sirleaf Order Criticized

1 November 2012

As an U.S. backed effort continued to support Liberia in implementing its new freedom of information law, a Liberian group has said the Liberian president is undercutting the law.

The Carter Center, with support from the United States Agency for International Development, held a conference as part of a project to raise the awareness of the law within seven ministries and agencies, according to a report in The Heritage.

In the meantime, the Liberia Media Center criticized President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for issuing Executive Order #38 which it says obfuscates administration of the law by instructing public officials to jealously protect and withhold “confidential and classified” public information, according to a report in The Analyst.

The center expressed concern about subpart 6.3 of the order, titled “Safeguarding Official Information,” which states: “A public servant shall maintain a high level of confidentiality regarding communication of official information in accordance with government’s policy, the Rules and Procedures of the Civil Service or any law.”

In subpart 6.1, the order further counsels: “A public servant shall use sensitive and confidential information that is in their possession or likely to come into her/his possession only in the performance of her/his official duties or responsibilities except where such information is criminal in nature or against public policy. A public servant shall be prudent in discussing sensitive information with any other public servant or others who are not directly concerned with the matter in hand.”

In a position statement, the center questioned the motivation of the order which it said interferes with areas already covered by the law.

The Carter Center Access to Information Project and USAID two years ago committed to support administration of the law.

The recent awareness program was held in Gbarnga, Bong County, for county officials and 14 commissioners of Bong and heads of line ministries and agencies.

Bong County is one of seven government ministries and agencies serving as pilots to experiment the implementation of the FOI. Other ministries and agencies include Education, Health, Information, Finance, National Social Security and Welfare Corporation and the Center for National Documents and Records Agency, CNDRA.

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