Liberian Commissioner Orders Release of Asset Disclosures

26 July 2013

Liberia’s information commissioner, in his first ruling, has ordered the nation’s Anti-Corruption Commission to release the asset disclosure statement of Cabinet ministers and their deputies.

The records were sought by the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) .

Mark Bedo-Wla Freeman in his July 23 decision stated, “The asset declarations are part of efforts to fight corruption in Liberia. And this objective cannot be achieved if we fail or refuse to disclose the contents of asset declaration forms.”

A lawyer for the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) said there will be an appeal, according to an article on Heritage Liberia and another in Front Page Africa.

The LACC argued that the asset disclosure information contained personal information protected by the FOI law. It also said it could not be disclosed because of an executive order on government information and a privacy clause in the Constitution.

CEMESP contended that the LACC had to show that the harm, if any, to be caused by disclosing the asset declaration forms was greater than the public interest in having the information disclosed.  The group said Section 10.3 of Executive Order No.38, which restricts access of the declaration forms to the LACC and other authorized agencies, is inconsistent with the Freedom of Information Act .

The commissioner ruled that where provisions of any statute clash with the Liberia Freedom of Information Act, those provisions must, to the extent of the inconsistencies, bow to the FOI Act.

Referring to the public interest standard in the FOIA, the commissioner wrote:

The Commissioner’s application of the public interest test shows that the harm to be occasioned by disclosure of the asset declaration forms is outweighed by the public interest in having the information disclosed. The asset declarations are part of efforts to fight corruption in Liberia. And this objective cannot be achieved if we fail or refuse to disclose the contents of asset declaration forms. In this regard, the Commissioner’s decision is that the information sought should be disclosed; and therefore orders LACC to so do in the larger public interest.

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