Liberians who pursue their roles to hold the government’s feet to the fire must equally be responsible, and accountable as to how information is accessed, interpreted and released to the public domain, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor has said.
Veep Taylor spoke at the official celebration of the World Right to Know Day on Tuesday, Sept. 28 in Monrovia, called on Liberians to show the same level of accountability and responsibility in their various organizations.
She said in her more than twenty years of national service, “I have never received any audited report from civil society organizations.
“It is commonly said that ‘to whom much is given, much more is expected and therefore civil society organizations must also be transparent in order for the system to work as it should.
“For they too receive funds from different sources to work in Liberia on behalf of the people so the funds received on their behalf, just as the government does, must also be accounted for.”
She quoted former Press Union of Liberia (PUL) president Peter Quaqua, who in a report in 2013 said, “The ownership of a growing number of media outlets presents a new kind of dilemma in journalists’ quest for ethical standard and professionalism.
Madam Taylor said it was an apparent reference to the situation where some of the media institutions are either owned or patronized by politicians and people with commercial and vested interest.
She said that Mr. Quaqua sounded the warning in order to bring to light a new phenomenon of a plethora of institutions sprouting up as ‘rented media’, in which the owners allegedly targeting others on purpose with little regard to the ethics of journalism.
Vice President Taylor said the situation continued during the 2017 elections, without much condemnation or correction by PUL. “This, I believe, is also a part of the responsibility of actors in this most treasured space,” she said.
She noted that the serenity of the World Right to Know Day celebration under the government must summon Liberians’ sense of patriotism and therefore, as Liberians seek information and utilize it in their roles as a watchdog of society; she implored them to reflect on how far the country has come. “We have indeed made some strides but not without great sacrifices,” she said.
“The occasion,” she said, “must bring our minds together in deep thought on how we are all responsible to keep our nation sailing smoothly on the tidal waves of our national challenges, but only in an environment of peaceful co-existence and not a crisis of war.”
Madam Taylor said as the government of the day, “We give you the solid assurance of our recognition and reaffirmation of the vital, catalytic and indispensable role that access to information, free press, and free expression play, when used responsibly and objectively in ensuring the best practices in our national governance processes.”
Juan Antonio Frutos, head of Political Affairs, European Union Delegation to Liberia, said citizens should celebrate the international day for universal access to information as an integral part of the basic human right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
He said this day reminds citizens of the importance of their strengthened access to information, for both men and women as well as an open government of transparency and accountability.
“The protection of the right of access to information, including the right to seek and receive information from the government is vital to democracy and a driver of good governance, development and upholding of other human rights,” Frutos said.
He said the new European consensus on development aligns the EU’s development policy with the 2030 sustainable development goals, which highlights EU’s commitment to promoting accountable and transparent institutions, including participatory decision-making and public access to information.
Mr. Frutos indicated that in 2010, Liberia became the fourth country in Africa and the first in West Africa to pass a Freedom of Information Act, (FOI) which allows both the media and individual citizens to demand information from any public authority that carries out government functions.
He said in Liberia, the EU has supported the Carter Center to provide technical assistance to key security and justice institutions aimed at enhancing the rule of law and good governance through increased transparency and access to information.
“Today, EU is launching a project under the title “Increasing Transparency in the Public Sector through Freedom of Information Training.” This project funded under European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights will provide training on Freedom of Information to the Liberia Institute of Public Administration, The National Police Training Academy, and the James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute,” he said.
He added that the project will seek to enhance transparency in the public sector through the implementation of Freedom of Information curricula in these leading public institutions. In addition, the Carter Center will work with the Liberia Institute of Public Administration to use Freedom of Information Training Modules.