Negative Reviews Mark Fifth Anniversary of Liberian Law

1 October 2015

The fifth year anniversary of the freedom of information law in Liberia was marked by several very critical reviews of how the law is being implemented.

“Very little” is being done to implement the law, according one Liberian group. And a report by a pan-Africa FOI group said the government is turning in a “dismal performance.”

In another development, the Liberian government unveiled a series of pro-FOI commitments in its national action plan created as part of its membership in the Open Government Partnership.

Liberian information commissioner Mark Bedor-Wla Freeman, who didn’t get paid for his first eight months in office, said the government provided a budget for his office in 2013, but that since then there has been a downward trend, according to a media report.

The commissioner has ordered some agencies to release information, according to a chapter on Liberia in a report by the African Freedom of Information Centre wrote, but has “yet to compel institutions found wanton of holding information to disclose.” The evaluation was prepared by Malcolm W. Joseph, Executive Director of the Centre for Media Studies & Peace Building, a leading media development NGO in Liberia.

In particular, Joseph referenced his organization’s litigation to force the disclosure of asset disclosure forms by members of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). He wrote:

The Independent Information Commission whose verdict was appealed against by the LACC has failed to pursue the matter at the level of the court. In the circumstance it was the Independent Information Commissioner that should have filed a case on behalf of CEMESP so that the country could have its first case law precedent in redress seeking for denial of information. This has not been done.

Another negative assessment came from the Liberian group Cental, the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia.

In a RTK Day statement, the group noted the new Liberian OGP action plan and commented:

Ironically, on the flip side of all these, very little is being done to implement the FOI laws. On one hand citizens are making less use of the law due to the poor response system in handling requests. There is still huge skepticism in the public as to whether the government is serious about the laws as many journalists and human rights activists are still being dragged to court for libel mostly against government officials.

Soul Searching by NGOS

Joseph’s report described a “soul searching” meeting in July among civil society organizations and donors at which they discussed the fragmentation of the coalition that had worked to pass the law. “Now, it is a consensus to return to the drawing board and have a renewed FOI implementation plan that works,” Joseph said, adding, “The resolve is necessitated by the failings and problems of CSOs. The group cautioned the donors to avoid duplication, he said. Joseph’s group, CEMESP, has just won a grant with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to work on mainstreaming accountability.

His report concluded that “weak accountability and integrity systems and processes have to be reviewed and overhauled,” saying this extends to the Open Budget Initiative “that is not delivering on its mandates. “ The report also recommended, “The office of the Independent Information Commissioner and the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission must employ all it takes to winning public confidence rather than consistently playing the blame game.”

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