9 September 2012

Liberia: Journalist Invokes Freedom of Information Law

A reporter with The NEWS Newspaper, Mr. Sam Zota Jr. has formally submitted two separate Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Ministry of Education and the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC). The FOI requests separately seek to obtain data on institutions and other beneficiaries of former United States President George W. Bush's one million textbooks and school furniture donation to Liberia.

On the other hand, the other FOI request seeks to obtain a copy of the management contract that was signed between the Government of Liberia and the Canadian-based Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) Limited.

It can be recalled that the donation of over one million textbooks and school furniture was announced by the former US President following a visit to Liberia in February 2008.

Later that same year, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazer symbolically handed over 10,500 pieces of school furniture and 1.2 million books to the government and people of Liberia at the Montserrado County Learning Resource Center, in Monrovia.

On September 16, 2009, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf launched the distribution of more than one million textbooks and school furniture in support of Liberia's free primary and compulsory education program, for onward distribution to public schools throughout the country.

However, nearly four years after the launch of the distribution process by the Liberian leader, the whereabouts of the books and furniture is still unclear; libraries in various public schools remain empty or with outdated books.

Efforts by reporter Zota over the past weeks to obtain information on beneficiaries of the US President's donation proved futile.

Meanwhile, the management contract between the Liberian government and the MHI Limited was signed in 2010 for the foreign company to manage the LEC for five years.

But with nearly three years after the signing of the contract, not much is being heard of it. There are also concerns over the implementation of the contract by some local managers at the LEC.

The failure of the LEC and the Ministry of Education to provide information on these respective issues has led to reporter Zota's submission of the FOI requests.

Meanwhile, the Management of The NEWS newspaper said it is fully backing its reporter to ensure that the Ministry of Education and the LEC comply with the FOI request.

The Freedom of Information Act was approved by the President on September 16, 2010.

According to Chapter 2.0, Section 2.6 of the FOI Law, "Documents subject to Automatic Publication: The classes of documents to be automatically published by every public authority shall include: 1) the enabling legislation of the agency or authority; 2) its existing policies, procedures and rules; 3) its budgets; 4) the financial accounts of the agency/authority; 5) material contracts; 6) organizational chart, including lines of reporting; 7) procedures for appealing decisions of the authority or officers; and 8) such other information that would enable the public to deal with the authority and or monitors its performance".

The law also provides that, "every public authority and private entity shall respond to every request for information within 30 calendar days; provided that this period shall be extended once upon showing of a reasonable cause."

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