23 July 2010

Liberia: Freedom of Information Bill Passed

The moment the press of Liberia and ordinary citizens craved for so long berthed yesterday when members of the House of Representatives moved to pass the Freedom of Information Bill which lingered in the corridors for almost two years.

The Freedom of Information Bill is an instrument which seeks to provide the ambiance in which the Liberian press and all Liberian citizens, amongst many other advantages, will have equal and unhindered access to public documents and records.

The bill was sent to the National Legislature, which in keeping with the Liberian Constitution has the power to make laws, to be able to pass it into law, having gone through and satisfied with the enshrinement embedded therein for the good of the country.

The delay on the part of the Legislature to see reasons in passing the bill into law sparked concerns and criticisms in the diplomatic and civil society circles with calls that they expeditiously pass into law.

Now, at their own appointed time, apparently having done what they thought was expedient, the Lower House of the Legislature yesterday took the first giant step by passing the bill and is expected to send it to the Upper House, the Senate, for its concurrence.

Minutes after the FOI Bill was passed, the Press Union of Liberia, the parental body of all journalists in Liberia, issued a statement, saying that it received the news of the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in the House of Representatives with excitement and relief.

The statement which did not take into account all of the details that preceded the passage of FOI, quoted President Peter Quaqua as saying that the Union is humbled by what he called "overwhelming vote taken on Thursday by the Representatives to enact a law that will enhance the greater openness and awareness in Liberia."

While congratulating the House and the Liberian people for the achievement, the Union also made it emphatically clear that the passage of the Bill on the eve of Independence Day, July 26, symbolizes the true independence and freedom of the Liberian state.

According to the PUL statement, the Freedom of Information Act was submitted to the Legislature over two years ago in April 2008. It hoped the Bill as passed by the Lower House will get a concurrence vote of the members of the Upper House of the Senate.

The statement also quoted Information Ministry authorities that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is waiting to affix her signature as soon as the instrument reaches her desk.

Besides the PUL expressing optimism and rejoicing at the passage of the bill, one of the brains behind the carving of the instrument, former PUL vice President, Malcolm Joseph also expressed delight at the news of the passage of the bill by the House.

Joseph, who now runs the Center for Media Studies (CESMEP) is also hopeful that the Senate will follow the footsteps of the House in passing the bill before it disband for the usual Agriculture Break.

He reminded Liberians that the bill is not only for the media, but all citizens, as they will use the law to demand access to public documents and records.

With the passage of the FOI, the media executive called on members of the Legislature to act with the same vision and passion, to pass the rest of the media related bills before it, such as the one that seeks to turn the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) into Public Broadcast and the Broadcast Regulatory Bill which was passed by the House and is before the Senate awaiting its concurrence.

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