Government Agencies Still Ignoring FOI Law

By Janjay F. Campbell

The senior Project Coordinator for Access to Information Initiative at Carter Center said there are nine government agencies that are making effort in selecting information officers while some government agencies are still ignoring the Freedom of Information Law.

Speaking over the weekend at the stakeholders’ consultative forum on the progress, challenges and lesson learned from the implementation of the Liberia Freedom of Information Act 2010 that was held at the Youth Men Christian Association (YMCA) on Board street, Mr. Alphonso Zeon said because these agencies are ignoring the law, they find it very challenging in giving out information out.

Mr. Zeon disclosed that what makes it so challenging in getting the information we want, sometimes the records are not in proper order. He said it should be the job of the information officer to make sure that the records are in place; this will enable the information officer to be fast in giving out information.

He added that the FOI Law enables journalists to follow up on their stories and that it puts a lot of pressure on journalists to report accurately and that it is a challenge to journalists. He encouraged journalists to read the FOI Law and take advantage of it.

He stressed that it is not fair to blame people because they are ignoring the law. He said to be able to spread out the word of freedom of information; they have to go to various schools and communities to explain to the Liberian people the meaning of Freedom of Information.

At the same time, representatives from government and other agencies said they don’t have problem giving out information. Commissioner Ruth Jappah from the Governance Commission said they have problem with the reproduction of information.

While other agencies are complaining that they are having problem in selecting an information officer, the Director of Health Promotion at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Rev. John Sumo said they are doing their best to select an information officer because it will help the ministry a lot but they are having difficulties.

The consultative forum was conducted by Liberia Freedom of Information Coalition (LFIC) with the theme “Increasing Civil Society Demand for Public Information”. The coordinator at LFIC Victor Kaydor said they are aware of the challenges that some of the agencies are faced with.

According to Mr. Kaydor, the information officers at all ministries and agencies have to make certain that the records are in order. He said they are aware that all of these things have financial cost and that is why they are in need of budgetary support.

The LFIC as part of the quest to promote the implementation of FOI Law has set up a secretariat for the coordination of its campaign to monitor, provide civic education and capacity building for the successful implementation of the FOI. There has been remarkable progress in the adaptation of freedom of information. But despite the progress and general positive trends, implementation, compliance and enforcement there have been some challenges.