Counselor Mark Bedor-Wla Freeman, Chairperson of the Freedom of Information Commission has disclosed plans to institute judicial and administrative actions against the Liberian government’s ministries and agencies not in compliance with the provision of the FOI Law.
Addressing a press stake out yesterday at the IIC’s 10th Street office in Sinkor, Mr. Freeman read an Administrative Circular outlining legal steps instituted regarding disclosure and the provision of information being requested by the public.
The Administrative Circular disclosed that most of the line ministries and agencies have not made reports to the IIC as stipulated under the law and provided for in the Freedom of Information Act.
Commissioner Freeman expressed serious concern about the underfunding of the IIC since its legal establishment as a statutory and independent agency that has oversight responsibility to ensure that the public has access to public documents in Liberia.
He pointed out that most of the line ministries and agencies have adapted a non-cooperative attitude toward the release of vital information to the public.
Cllr. Freeman noted that the implementation of the FOI Act is not totally absent from the top of the Liberian government’s agenda.
He disclosed that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai and senior Liberian Government officials have committed themselves to the promotion of the FOI Act in the country.
Commissioner Freeman, however, regretted that political commitment on the part of the Liberian government has not trickled down to Cabinet Ministers, autonomous and other public institutions that are subject to the laws of the FOI.
During the celebration of the Right to Know Day in Liberia, Commissioner Freeman reaffirmed the IIC’s readiness to implement the FOI law throughout the country.
He admitted that the IIC has given too much room to people who have not been abiding by the law of the FOI initiatives in the country.
He said the non-existence of Internal Review Boards at the various ministries and agencies has served as an impediment for people seeking information.
Cllr. Freeman said a case in point at the Commission took two years before a decision was taken which created credibility and integrity challenges and problems for the FOI implementation in the country.
Shedding light on alternative steps taken by the IIC on external resource mobilization, Commissioner Freeman said a grant was provided by the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) in its public sensitization drive in the country.
He indicated that OSIWA initially provided US$40,000 to the IIC to achieve some genuine results in the sensitization activities in some parts of the country.
Based on the IIC’s performance with the previous financial grant, OSIWA has extended the assistance to U$70,000 to empower the IIC to carry out the implementation of the FOI law in the country, said Cllr. Freeman.
Stating the number of cases which the IIC has heard and made decisions on, Commissioner Freeman disclosed that there are three decisions so far and they are under appeal.
He added that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and IIC staff have had some discussions regarding financial support that could enhance the effective implementation of the FOI law in the country.
Regarding the partnership with non Liberian institutions, Commissioner Freeman said partnership is ongoing with the Carter Center in the area of capacity building and other professional interactions.
He assured Liberians and the public that the IIC’s team has the legal capacity to adjudicate any case that will come before it.