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Liberia's Freedom of Information Act Tested

  • James Butty

Tom Kamara, managing editor of the New Democrat newspaper asks for financial information of three Liberian public corporations

The managing editor of the New Democrat newspaper of Liberia said he has asked three Liberian public corporations for information on their financial dealings under the country’s Freedom of Information Act.

Tom Kamara said the agencies include the Liberia Telecommunication Authority, the Monrovia City Corporation, and the Maritime Bureau.

Liberia is the only country in West Africa that has a Freedom of Information law.

The act, signed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2010, states the public shall have a right to inspect and obtain copies of all kinds of information held by the government and public authorities except those legitimately exempted.

Kamara said some of the agencies have had controversial financial dealings.

“Maritime is the key foreign exchange earner in the country, and it’s been very controversial over the past years in terms of its own contribution to the budget. The public has the right to know how much money Maritime is earning, how the money is being spent,” he said.

Kamara said he also requested financial information from the Monrovia City Corporation, especially after a controversial parking system that Acting Monrovia City Mayor, Mary Broh, introduced.

“Madam Broh has been receiving a lot of funding from NGOs. Apart from that, she’s introduced a controversial scheme of street parking in Monrovia whereby, for an hour, you have to pay $50 to park. She hired contractors and she is giving 75 percent of the money collected to go into their private pockets and 25 percent to city hall,” Kamara said.

He said he would like to know why public property is being used by private individuals without investing any money at all.

Kamara said Broh has said that she will not turn over her financial records and, as result, he has gone to court to force her to turn over the records.

“She has told us to say that she will not give us the document and that we should take her to court. So, we are trying now to get a legal team to test the Freedom of Information Act to compel Ms. Broh to give us the relevant financial documents, how much government has earned, how she hired these individuals, and why should we pay to park in public places when the money is going into private pockets,” he said.

Kamara said the new parking scheme has come under criticism because, unlike in the United States, there are no parking meters in Monrovia and those issuing the parking tickets are indistinguishable from ordinary people.

“A lot of businesses have protested. For example, before our office, we’ve been told that we have to pay $30 per hour for as long as we park per day. Now, we calculated that, if we were to pay that money, for example, we’ll be paying $1,500 to city hall per year. The next question is, ‘How do they measure how many hours we parked?’ There are no meters,” Kamara said.

Information Ministry spokesmanTweah said government institutions intend to respect all provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

But, Tweah said those making a request must have patience because it takes time to process each request.

“If the request is not one of those that has been exempted, there should be no reason why the information that is being requested should not be given. However, the law provides a written period of up to 30 days for a request to be adhered to, or denied, or transferred,” Tweah said.