22 February 2013

Liberia: Information Freedom Struggle Continues - Carter Center & MICAT Plow New Frontiers

Human rights and democracy advocates in September 2010 fractured if not broke backbone of despotism in Liberia when they succeeded in pushing Government to the final Legislation of the Freedom of Information Law. Liberia's ruling elites had thrived on bureaucratic secrecy or close governance practices—a way of entrenching the policy of exclusion, corruption and unaccountability. But it seems the fractured wounds of the Government were healing for a combination of reasons, including but not limited to lack of skills to track, monitor and report compliance and poor public awareness. These defects are now under attack in wake of a pact entered into by the international peace and democracy organization, Carter Center, and the Ministry of Information. The Analyst reports.

The Government of Liberia, represented by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, and the United States-based Carter Center have signed a memorandum of understanding to reinforce the spirit and intent of the Freedom of Information Law signed in 2010.

The Law was principally enacted to increase transparency and accountability in the public sector and increase citizens' right to information as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The MOU is a platform by which both institutions will cooperate to promote and strengthen the full and effective establishment of the FOI Law in Liberia, including implementation, compliance and encouraging its use.

The Center, being an organization chartered to promote democracy, human rights development and transparency is, under the terms of the MOU, committed to collaborate and to share its international experience in the area of the right of access to information with the GOL, including building capacity for implementation, promoting effective compliance and appeal mechanisms and increasing awareness.

The MOU acknowledged that while significant progress continues to be made in advancing both awareness and implementation of the FOI Law, much work remains to be done to ensure its full and effective implementation and enforcement, including providing continued critical support to the existing pilot agencies and expanding support to two additional ministries, providing basic training to all designated Information Officers and further sharing good practices and international experiences.

The Memorandum therefore serves to delineate the relationship between the GOL and the Center upon which they have agreed to collaborate in support of the full and effective implementation, compliance, and promotion of the FOI Law.

Under the MOU, the Carter Center will retain its local field office to provide ongoing support and assistance related to the right of access to information and help Government identify up to two additional target Ministries/Agencies for a total maximum of nine (9) target agencies/ministries/public bodies (hereinafter called "target agencies") to which activities pertaining to the Memorandum will be focused.

The Carter Center will also maintain a consultative relationship with the GOL through the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and the target agencies on matters directly affecting the implementation, enforcement and use of the FOI Law.

The MOU also obliges the Center to help convene and facilitate workshops and training sessions for public officials of the target agencies and other agencies designated Information Officers to raise awareness of the FOI Act and its operation and implementation, including but not limited to records and information management, automatic publication, and processes and procedures for responding to requests, and compliance mechanisms.

It will support Government's efforts to raise public awareness on the right of access to information and encourage collaboration and communication, through convening periodic meetings between the relevant Government personnel and other key stakeholders, including the independent's Information Commission and civil society leaders.

The Government's responsibility under MOU include, amongst other things, designating a principal counterpart to work with the Center's representatives related to freedom of information activities.

The MOU says the Government will identify, with the assistance of the Center, up to 2 additional target agencies to which activities pertaining to this Memorandum will be focused, although implementation of planned activities under the MOU may be extended to or benefit other agencies of the GOL if possible with available resources.

The Government is expected also to establish an agreed-upon schedule of consultations and collaborative activities between the Ministry of Information and the target agencies and the Center, with the objective of conducting workshops and training sessions for awareness raising and capacity building.

Establish an agreed-upon schedule of collaborative activities between the GOL and the Center aimed at raising awareness and developing capacities for the designated Information Officers.

The MOU also gives the Government the responsibility to encourage key officials within the target agencies and Information Officers to participate and collaborate in all activities undertaken under this Memorandum to promote and improve the implementation, compliance and promotion of the FOI Law.

Both Government and the Carter Center will meet regularly to share lessons learned and develop activities and future programming, as well as to discuss any challenges and difficulties encountered in fulfilling the terms of the MOU.

It is the Government's responsibility to also provide support, as necessary and appropriate, to assist the Center in its fundraising efforts related to this MOU and in meeting the legal requirements for working in Liberia.

The Memorandum is expected to last from February 2013 and shall remain in force until 31 day of December 2013 or such longer period as may be agreed by the parties.

According to its terms, the Memorandum does not create enforceable legal obligations or third party rights and any issues not mentioned in it may be resolved through mutual consent.

Government and the Center agree to work collaboratively to determine the modalities on the implementation of this agreement and, upon the request of either party, the Memorandum may be amended or revised with the written agreement of both parties and it may be terminated by either party upon the giving of three (3) months written notice.

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