The Liberian Freedom of Information Commissioner, Mark Bedor Wla Freeman, has held the first hearing of request denial redress filed by the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding, (CEMESP) against the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission, LACC. The hearing took place on June 13, 2013 at the offices of the Commission in Monrovia. This matter had to be reverted to the Independent Information Commissioner after the Supreme Court last week ruled on a writ of mandamus filed by CEMESP against both the LACC and the office of the Independent Information Commissioner.
In the said Supreme Court ruling the writ of mandamus was faulted for citing LACC as first respondent and the Information Commissioner as second respondent.
In that ruling, Associate Justice Kabineh Janneh ordered that the Independent Information Commissioner, who was supposed to be first respondent rather than the second, should by law be the first arbiter of this matter before it could get to the Supreme Court, depending on the pending ruling from the Independent Information Commissioner.
In line with that Supreme Court order the Independent Information Commissioner on 13th June heard from Complainant and Respondent, CEMESP and LACC.
The LACC submission made various citations from the FOI Act 2010 and Executive Order 8 No. 3. They concluded on the argument that the information requested by CEMESP could not be provided because it constitutes privacy, which is covered as exemption clause in the FOI Act 2010.
CEMESP lawyers countered this argument referring to various provisions including primacy of the law and its scope, partial exemption clause, among other things.
The CEMESP lawyers concluded on the point that the spirit of the law is the promotion of transparency in the public domain, which is what the disclosure of the asset declaration forms will do if the request was granted. CEMESP lawyers have made commitment to file a written submission reflecting their contentions made at the Independent Information Officer’s hearing.
Independent Information Commissioner Cllr. Freeman, reacting to both submissions from CEMESP and LACC, said that they will review both arguments and come out with a ruling soon and reminded the LACC that his office has jurisdiction over the matter.
“I could not at first act on this matter when CEMESP contacted me because my office was not functional, Cllr Freeman intoned. He said the matter being the first to engage him, has implication for the future, noting that the rest of the world is watching him,” he stated.
The hearing was done in the presence of FOI Monitors from the Liberia Freedom of Information Coalition, the Executive Director of the Center for Media studies and Peacebuilding, Malcolm Joseph, among others.
CEMESP had filed a request to LACC, requesting asset declaration forms for ministers and deputies. The LACC initially consented to provide same on the proviso that CEMESP took onus of photocopying the volume of documents involved.
When CEMESP agreed to cover the cost, LACC reneged on its commitment stating that the needed information are private and prone to exposing ministers and deputies to risk.