The NEWS (Monrovia)

28 January 2013

Liberia: 'We Need Full FOI Disclosure'

"Openness and transparency in governance will remain elusive if the current Freedom of Information (FOI) Law is not amended to allow full disclosure in government," Liberia's Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) boss has said.

Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison questioned the possibility of having high degree of transparency and openness in the governance process of the country when the FOI law exempts the disclosure of certain information to the public.

"If we require a high degree of transparency and openness through governance, how can we say that there are exemptions in the Freedom of Information Law? We need full disclosure; disclosure cannot be one way," Cllr. Johnson-Allison said Wednesday at the launch of the open government and open budget initiative at the Ministry of Finance in Monrovia.

She said the need to have transparency in the implementation of the national budget and the awarding of government contracts are keen to the process of openness and transparency in governance initiative.

"There has to be transparency and openness about people who are awarded contracts. We cannot just show you how much money government is generating and spending and we do not know those who are using the money to implement projects; how they are being awarded contracts?" Cllr. Allison wonders.

The LACC Chief said the fight against corruption has to go to every level of the society, including the implementers of the budget and other people who are entrusted to spend public funds on various projects in the country.

She said it has been proven over the years that people spent government's money outside the public interests.

"Most spending of government money is not beneficial to people at the grass root level because they are creating bogus companies and passing the money to those bogus companies that are not transparent," she noted.

Chapter 4.0 (Exemptions) states that, "a document, information or record is exempted from disclosure or public access if its disclosure would cause injury or substantial harm to the security, defense or international relations of the Republic of Liberia or would divulge any information or matter communicated in confidence by or on behalf of another country to the Government".

This part of the law, the LACC boss said, is incompatible with the level of openness and transparency that the government professes.

African Development Bank (ADB) Country Representative, Dr. Margaret Kilo who also attended the program, congratulated Finance Minister Amara Konneh and his team for their efforts exhibited during the preparation stages of the open budget and open governance initiative.

Madam Kilo said the government of Liberia requires a lot of assistance in various areas, especially in the implementation stage of its national budget.

She called on all development partners to provide the support that is needed to make the implementation stage of the national budge a success.

United States Ambassador to Liberia, Deborah Malac said the U.S. Government is proud to support Liberia in the open government partnership.

Ambassador Malac said the partnership is a new global effort that is intended to make governments open, transparent and accountable to their citizens.

"Making government transparent and open is not easy; however, we are making great strides in this direction with the launch of the open budget initiative" Amb. Malac said.

The open government and open budget electronic bill board project was supported by the US government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

For his part, Liberia's Finance Minister Amara Konneh said the launch of the electronic bill board was the beginning of the government's commitment to openness.

Minister Konneh said the board was also intended to empower the people of Liberia to hold the government more accountable.

"If we can work hard to be a bit more open, then we can hold our development partners accountable and to be opened and encourage them to put their money in our budget through direct budgetary support," Min. Konneh said, Sam Zota, Jr. reports

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