The Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism (MICAT), has challenged the Liberian public and foreigners alike to take advantage of the Freedom of Information law by making use of its contents, in an effort to make this government and others to come, more transparent and accountable to the people.
The Deputy Minister for Administration at MICAT, Norris Tweh, said the FOI Law will only be effective when Liberians get to fully hear about and understand it through publicity and awareness programs.
Speaking at a FOI Education and Awareness program organized by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Minister Tweh said that everyone (Liberian and non-Liberian) has the right to seek, receive, and impart information as stipulation in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Briefing workshop participants that included the media, employees of MOH&SW, medical entities and the Ministry’s Acting Information Officer, on the FOI procedures on requesting information from public entities such as ministries and agencies that fall under the FOI Act, Minister Tweh said that requests can be received by e-mail, letter, in person and by phone.
Minister Tweh indicated that when a request is received(via E-mail, letter) by an Information Officer at any entity, it should be dated and stamped and the information requested will be process in a period of 30 days, including the date of receipt.
He noted that information that maybe requested and denied by any Information Officer has four procedures through, which appeals could be taken.
“When your request is being denied by an Information Officer, you have four steps you can take to have that decision overturned depending on its legitimacy. The first step is to seek redress through an internal review body in that entity to which your request was sent. If you are not satisfied by the decision taken by that body, you may take your case to the Information Commission and from there to the Civil Law Court with the option to go even further: to the Supreme Court,” Minister Tweh said.
He said: “We as Liberians can use the FOI Law to make our Ministries and Agencies more efficient and effective and this may subsequently lead to the expansion of our economy.
Giving an overview of the FOI law, Information Commissioner Cllr. Mark Bedor-Wla Freeman, said that advancing the right of access to information is a joint- responsibility between the government and its citizens.
Cllr Freeman said while the government must assure full and effective implementation and enforcement of the FOI Act, it is up to the citizens to monitor government’s efforts and to use the law; ultimately, the value of the FOI law rests in its implementation and use, and it is only by seeking and making requests for formation, that the benefits of access to information can fully be enjoyed.
“This is why government decided to prioritize this document and had it passed into law about three years ago. The government thinks the people should have a say in the governance process of the state.
Also quoting the Preamble of the Liberian Freedom of Information Act, the Information Commissioner boss said access to information is indispensable to a genuine democracy and good governance and no limitation shall be placed on the public’s right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.
A participant wanted to know whether Information Officers are selected or appointed by the minister or by the president—and whether such an appointment by one or the either might not produce a compromising situation.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s FOI Act was signed into law on September 16, 2010, provides all persons the right of access to public information. The right of access to information is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s rights, as well as the constitution of the country (Liberia).
FOI laws or regulations have been passed in over 90 countries around the world, with an even greater number enjoying a constitutional right to information. Liberia is the first country in West Africa to establish a comprehensive right to information law and the sixth in Africa.