FOI Law Faces First Legal Test…As CEMESP Takes LACC To Court

The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) has filed a writ of Mandamus with the Supreme Court of Liberia  to compel the Independent Information Commission to conduct a hearing on its complaint against the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) for denying the release of asset declaration information.

According to CEMESP Executive Director Malcolm Joseph as saying, CEMESP in November 2012 filed a request to the LACC to get the asset declaration forms of all cabinet ministers and their deputies in accordance with section 3.2 of the Freedom of Information Act of 2010.

Things have reached this level, after string of prior engagements CEMESP had with the LACC, which yielded no positive results. On November 21, 2012, the chairperson of the LACC responded and agreed to make the documents available, if CEMESP underwrote the cost of duplicating them. CEMESP agreed to this and indicated to the LACC in a November 22, 2012 letter in which the media advocacy organization requested the number of pages of documents in question.

But then on December 19, 2012, the LACC went back on its previous position and  the chairperson of the LACC informed CEMESP that the commission was revoking its previous decision to allow access to the documents on grounds that they are confidential.

Based on this response from the highest authority at the LACC, CEMESP on January 7, 2013 requested the Independent Information Commissioner to intervene in the issue and compel the LACC to make the requested information available.

However, since January 7, 2013, the Independent Information Commission has failed to take any action or even acknowledge receipt of CEMESP’s complaint.

In the writ of Mandamus filed on Monday, April 29, 2013 by lawyers representing CEMESP, the petitioner  requested the the Supreme Court to compel the independent Information Commissioner to get seized of CEMESP compliant within one week as of the court`s ruling in the writ of Mandamus.

Section 3.2 of the Freedom of Information Act of 2010 states that, “Every person, irrespective of their nationality or residence, may request, receive, reproduce and retain any information held by (1) a public authority or (2) private entity that receives public funds or engage in public functions or provision of public service; provided that in respect of private entities, the information shall relate to the public funds, benefit, functions or service.”

Under the Freedom of Information law, an appeal from an internal review lies with the Independent Information Commissioner.

Liberia is the first West African country to successfully pass a FOI law. This is the first Freedom of Information matter to reach the court since the Liberian FOI law came into effect.