US Journalist Sues Ministry of Gender, Independent Information Commission over Handling of FOI

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— Seeks fine of LD$5,000 for gross infringement and attorney’s fees in an amount not to exceed US$5,000

Allieu Badara Mansary, a Sierra Leonean journalist based in the United States of America, has filed a lawsuit with the Civil Law Court, at the Temple of Justice against the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP) and the Independent Information Commission (IIC) for the refusal of those public entities to provide him information on Liberia human trafficking records.

The case is expected to commence on September 21, 2020.

The lawsuit, filed by Cllr. Finley Karngar, the Attorney-In-Fact of Mansary, seeks judgment in his favor for gross infringement of his right to the requested information, to hold the ministry and the commission liable.

Cllr. Kangar, in the suit, also orders the Independent Information Commission and Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to compile and release all records in response to Mansary’s Freedom of Information requests. “Declare respondent MGCSP’s denial of access to Government of Liberia records requested by Petitioner to be unlawful and an abuse of discretionary power; and  Individually and jointly hold Minister Williametta Edourda Saydee-Tarr and the IIC responsible for willfully denying access to requested information,” the lawsuit claims.

“Order a fine of L$5,000 for gross infringement against MGCSP and the IIC and also order the payment of attorney fee in an amount not to exceed US$5,000; and Grant unto Petitioner other relief as Your Honour may deem just, equitable and proper,” the suit added.

The IIC got involved in the matter after it failed to address journalist Mansary’s complaint filed to it, (IIC) accusing the MGCSP of refusing to provide him with documentation regarding the human trafficking situation into  the country.

Up to present and including the publication of this story,  there is no record to show that the MGCSP has replied to the lawsuit, while only the IIC has complied with the court order response to the lawsuit.

In their reply, copy of which is with the Daily Observer, the IIC claims that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and due to the lock-down of offices, it became difficult to have proceeded to hear the matter especially so when they could not access the electronic copy of Mansary’s complaint due to the lack of electricity.

The IIC further argued that even though this fact was known to Mansary’s first lawyer, Cllr. Jallah Barbu, the lawyer did not do anything to remedy the situation.

They also argued that Cllr. Barbu should have first taken steps providing hard copy of the Mansary’s complaint, since it was not practicable to have accessed the electronic means, stressing the “fact well known to Cllr, Barbu, who is even prepared and willing to confirm the statement to the effect and that he was informed about the shortcoming of our accessing the complaint by electronic means.”

They further argued that Mansary, not taking any steps to have the complaint adjudicated, is only an attempt to besmear their reputation.

The IIC also argued that while it is true that Mansary sent an electronic copy of his complaint and, as indicated,  could not be accessed, for that reason he was advised to submit a hard copy of the electronic complaint along with attachment to be served on the ministry, something Cllr. Barbu failed to do, until the State of Emergency was declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prohibited the full functioning of the IIC.”

The IIC also argued that as soon as the requested documents are provided, he plans to have this matter expeditiously heard and determined.

In counter argument, Mansary’s Attorney-In-Fact, Cllr. Karngar, said the  allegations within the IIC’s response have no supporting document(s), which is against the rules of the pleading and violates public interest benefits of the disclosure of the information requested.

“The Supreme Court has held that he who asserts a claim, has the burden to establish said claim. Hence, the allegations of Cllr. Barbu’s promise to provide a hard copy of the complaint is far from the truth, especially when the complaint was done through electronic mail in compliance with the Section 3.4 of the FOI Act, describing the form of request,” Cllr. Kangar argued.

Kangar also argued that the claim for COVID-19 is a misrepresentation of the complaint, transaction and dealing of parties within the lawsuit.

“The complaint was filed with IIC on February 25, 2020 through electronic communication, which is more than two months before the State of Emergency was declared by President Weah of Republic of Liberia,” the lawsuit added.

Therefore, the said defense should be dismissed, as they are far from the truth and are intended to mislead the court, and distort the history of the case,” Kangar noted.

Kangar said the IIC is aware of the transaction because all communications between Mansary and MGCSP were shared with them. 

“However, ICC elected to neglect its responsibility to and did not take any step,” the suit claimed.

According to Kangar, throughout the transaction between MGCSP and IIC, there was electronic copy used. Besides, there is nowhere or regulations in place indicating that complaint should filed in hard copy or taken physically.

Kangar further explained that for the IIC to say they were unable to access his email before and during the period of the COVID-19 State of Emergency is a misrepresentation. “How could he have written Mansary when he claims he was unable to access his email at home?” Kangar wondered.

“IIC is acceptance and avoidance; and it should be dismissed because throughout the complaint with the ministry he had access to his electronic mails but neglected to carry out his responsibility to handle the matter, thereby denying the Mansary rights to due process and the receipt of public information,” Kangar added.

“IIC’s argument that he could not access his electronic communication is not justifiable,” Kangar argued.

Kangar said, at the time of the follow-up on April 21, 2020, it had passed 56 days since the Mansary’s  February 25, 2020 official complaint. “Hence, the assertion and shadow plea for the COVID-19 State of Emergency is inappropriate and misleading. Therefore, the said count should be dismissed and denied.”

Author

  • Anthony Kokoi is a young Liberian sports writer who has an ever-growing passion for the development of the game of football (soccer) and other sports. For the past few years, he has been passionately engaged in reporting the developments of the game in the country. He is an associate member of the Sports Writers Association of Liberia (SWAL). He is a promoter of young talents. He also writes match reports and makes an analysis of Liberian Football.

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