Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stakeholders Hold Meeting on Freedom of Information Act

--- Cllr. Warner urged liberians to work to have Freedom of Information Act Implemented

Several stakeholders within the information sector of Liberia, last Friday, gathered at the Catholic Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Monrovia for a one day interactive meeting on the implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act which was recently passed.
The meeting organized by the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) with support from the Danish International Media Support (IMS), brought together Public Relation Officers within government ministries and agency, members of civil society and journalists as well.
During the discussion of the FOI Act, Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner urged those attending the program and Liberians in general; to not only celebrate the passage of the FOI to Law but to work to ensure that Liberia is recognized for its implementation.
While he discussed the FOI, Cllr. Warner outlined some shared responsibilities of the Government of Liberia (GOL), Civil Society and the Media to ensure an effective implementation of the Law.
Beginning with the government, Cllr. Warner said the GOL has to develop processes to have all information are available.
He said as an obligation the GoL have to set up an information commissioner that would supervise and oversee the implementation of the FOI.

“The government also has to support agency of government to have information officers in each agency that would be the first point of contact when you go there to ask for information,” he said.
He added that information generated for the public should be organized into a system that would gathered and retain them and have them in a user friendly and easily accessible framework which will required support.
“It is one thing to ask information and another thing to weather the information is available,” he pointed out.
“Even as civil society, we have to show some little bit of understanding that when these agencies have difficulties [with providing information], especially during the formative stages, is not because they are doing it with bad minds but they have operational challenges,” he noted.
“Your advocacies,” he continued, “may want to recognize that so that after time you will enjoy the honey moon. But after several months if you see that still happening then you will the start to question whether there is a commitment ot underline the responsibility.”
He said it is the responsibility of civil society and the media to use the Law to request information because the GOL and its partners have done everything possible to have this Law in book.
Also speaking earlier at the program, Mr. Peter Quaqua, President of the press union of Liberia (PUL) said if Liberians do not seek to have the FOI Law implemented they would set a wrong example for creating this Law and having other people to not abide by it.
“It is an opportunity that we have to carry on this history that we’ve made in the West African sub-region of Africa. And the question of implementing this Law will rest on the shoulders of a lot of people,” he said.
He added that people who are public relation officers in various agencies are custodians of some of the information that will me need in the public domain and if they are the ones that would serves as an impediment of the access o information they would be doing injustice to the promotion of the freedom of information within the sub-region.
He further stated he believe that president Sirleaf sign the Law because she “feels strong” about the FOI Act and those with in the civil society and the media would have to help her implement said Law in the country.
Mr. Quaqua said the implementation of the FOI Law will make other nations see Liberia as “just making mockery or once again jumping into making history that we cannot maintain.”
Assistant Minister of information and services said the government believes that its citizenry should be well informed because an inform citizenry would be able to complement the government’s efforts and not make the wrong decision.
“For too long our people have been given queasy information from bias perspective. At least if you have the information available to you, except where you are just unprincipled minded, then you will give the public queasy information,” he said.
The program was also characterized by a parallel discussion in which participants suggested the way forward on the implantation of the law.
The participants suggested among others that awareness if the law and collaborative pursue for information would be ways forward for the smooth implementation of the act.

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