By: Necus M. Andrews
The Liberian Legislature, the body responsible for making laws, has been named among the three branches of government as the institution violating the Freedom of Information (FOI) Law of Liberia, the 3rd quarter report of the Independent Information Commission (IIC) has disclosed.
Passed in 2010 by the Legislature, the FOI law requires all public authorities and bodies at all branches of the government, including but not limited to ministries, bureau, departments, autonomous agencies, public corporations, commissions, committees, sub-committees, boards, military and paramilitary institutions, and any other related bodies supported in whole or in part by public resources to ensure the accessibility of information whether requested or not.
The report placed the Legislature in the position of none compliance branch of government because it is yet to respect four thematic areas outlined in the law.
The mandates of every public authority and private entity to which this Act applies shall appoint, maintain and duly support at least one designated personnel/staff whose overall responsibility shall be to receive requests for information held by the authority or entity and coordinate the response(s) of the authority or entity to all such requests.
According to the IIC report, the Legislature is yet to provide the avenue for the public to access information from the lawmaking body.
The report said the Legislature does not have Public Information Officer (PIO), functional website, current annual report online and Internal Review Body established as required by law.
This means that the Legislature has not created an open space for the public to have access to information.
The Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Lands, Mines & Energy, National Commission on Small Arms, Cooperative Development Agency and John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) are institutions along with the Legislature not in compliance with the FOI law.
Jarlawah Tonpo, Director of Press at the Liberian Senate confirmed that the Legislature does not have a public Information Officer appointed because the Independent Information Commission is yet to do so.
Although the FOI law did not say the IIC should be responsible for the appointment of PIO, Mr. Tonpo said such role needs to be played by an independent person.
Besides these none compliance institutions, the IIC report also figured out some institutions including the Judiciary, Liberia Revenue Authority, General Auditing Commission, Ministry of Information, the Office of the Vice President, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Independent Information Commission and National Social Security & Welfare Corporation as best performers.
These institutions, the report said have a designated Public Information Officer (PIO), functional website, Current annual report online and Internal Review Body as required by law.
Edwin Clarke, Senior Media Analyst at GAC said his institution sees complying with the FOI law as an obligation to adequately inform the public especially when it comes to the audit of government entities.
“It has been rewarding and challenging but all in all we made it our duty to respond to the needs of individuals and entities that made the request. Sometimes in a month times, we received close to 10 different requests on various audit reports ranging from local and international organizations,” Clarke said.
He told the NEWS that “for the period covered, we can talk about close to 30-40 requests. We now have all of our audits on the official website of the GAC: www gac.gov.lr.com.”
Daryl Ambrose Nmah, Director of Public Information at the Supreme Court of Liberia said the Supreme Court has been a proactive disclosing institution because it is the Court’s responsibility to do so under the law.
Mr. Nmah said the FOI law is critical in the country’s developmental drive because it allows an open government for all, and that the judiciary will always be conformity of the law.
“If we keep government closed the citizens will use the information they have whether right or wrong, but if government is opened the citizens will use the facts available to them to make an informed decision-so this is what the FOI law very important to the Judiciary,” Mr. Nmah said.
Deputy information Minister for Administration, Andrew G. Tehmeh said being in compliance with the FOI is part of the Ministry’s effort of running a government.
“For us we want to be able to set a standard for ministries and agencies for follow since providing information to the public ids the responsibility of the Ministry of Information,” he said.
Minister Tehmeh challenged the public especially journalists to make use of the FOI by requesting information from the Ministry because access to information helps to build a reliable country.
Minister Tehmeh: “Some of the requests include our budget, salaries and allowances, and we give them because they are all public information that requesters are entitled to under the FOI”.
Cllr. Mark Bedor-Wla Freeman, Commissioner at the Independent Information Commission said the commission is in the process of raising awareness on the Law, after which it will be taking the radical approach by fining institutions that are in violation.