“Over the years, the Liberian government has made many strides by enacting into law several policies to promote free speech and access to information, but the flow of information between citizens and government is limited as citizens barely get information from government upon request”, NAYMOTE says.
To enable access to the free flow of information, NAYMOTE and its partners held a one-day advocacy training on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act with 40 young political leaders, community-based organizations’ youth and student leaders, as well as journalists, including newspaper publishers, Public Relations Officers and Civil Society actors from Montserrado, Bong and Margibi Counties.
The training on December 22 at iCampus aimed to augment participants’ knowledge of the FOI law and how journalists and citizens should go about accessing information through the help Independent Information Commission (IIC).
According to IIC Assistant Outreach Director, Armah B. Johnson, access to information is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of Liberia. He quoted Article 15c of the Liberian Constitution, which states: “There shall be no limitation placed on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.”
Armah also noted that the IIC has the power to request information from public bodies that refuse to release information to the public. “If an institution is refusing to release information, the IIC can compel you to release that information. We can also request the information that is being requested by the requester to make a determination as to whether this information should be given or not.”
Armah stressed that journalists and citizens should understand that they cannot have the right to information that would cause injury and substantial harm to the security defense and international relations of the Republic of Liberia.
For example, he quoted the Statutory Exemption of the IIC Code of Conduct Section 4.2, which states that: “Information relating to national defense and security and international relations, a document of record is exempted from disclosure to public access if its disclosure would cause injury and substantial harm to the security defense and international relations of Republic of Liberia or would divulge any information — by and on behalf of another country of government.
The Liberia Freedom of Information Act was adopted and signed into Law on September 16, 2010, during the administration of former President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
On February 21, 2019, President George M. Weah signed into law the “Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom” to promote free speech, the right to freedom and access to information. The KAK Act of Press Freedom repealed three (3) sections of the Penal Law of 1978, specifically Criminal libel against the President, Sedition, and Criminal Malevolence.
During the training, many of the participants said that they are unaware of the workings of the IIC. “This is my first time hearing about the IIC. I didn’t know such an institution exists”, Nathan Quiah said.
Armah also said that the penalty for those institutions that violate the FOI law and refuse to provide information through their office will be fined depending on the number of requests sent to their office. “A fine of L$5,000 or L$10,000 will be requested for institutions that violate the FOI Law plus 2 months suspension without pay”, he added.
Also during the training, NAYMOTE Program Officer, Joshua Cleon, presented findings on the Civil/Political Society Relations Report (CPS2R) conducted by the African Movement for Democracy (AMD). The study, according to him, was carried out in 5 countries in Africa (Cameroon, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania), focusing on freedom of assembly and association; freedom of expression and access to information; and CSO State relations
AMD is a network of young activists and civil society actors working to consolidate democratic unity on the African continent, by rallying political and civil society, youth groups and activists to respond to the crosscutting challenges facing democracy in Africa.