The Liberian Government’s public commitment to transparency and accountability is undermined by its failure to establish and operationalise a framework to facilitate public access to information says a report released today by the Sustainable Development Institute. The Annual Transparency Report 2010 of the forest sector points out that though the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) received a grant from the World Bank to establish an information centre that would facilitate public access to information held by the FDA, it has to date failed to set up the centre. As a result, requests for information go to the Managing Director, which takes several weeks before a request is addressed, ignored or denied.
Section 18.15a of the National Forestry Reform Law (2006) states: “the Authority shall grant and facilitate free public access to read and to copy all documents and other information in its possession, including all audits, all Forest Resources License fee invoices and fee payment information, business and forest management plans, strategies, resolutions from the Board of Directors, public comments, reports, inventories, regulations, manuals, databases, contract maps, and contracts…” This provision is further strengthened by the Freedom of Information Act (2010), which guarantees public access to information produced or held by government bodies.
The report emphasises that following the enactment of the National Forestry Reform Law and the Freedom of Information Act the logical next step is to implement these laws by putting in place the systems that are necessary to operationalise the various provisions. The report highlights the failure of the government to set up supporting institutions that allows the public to have the “right of access to information generated, received and or held by public bodies” guaranteed by Section 1.4a of the Freedom of Information.
“With available financial support from the World Bank for more than two years running I do not see any reason why the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has not yet established an information center in Monrovia and the four regional centers across the country”, says James Otto of the Sustainable Development Institute.
The report recommends that the government should undertake measures to fully implement its obligations under the law by establishing the office of the Independent Information Commissioner and supporting it to carry out its functions effectively. The report also recommends that all government bodies and agencies be required to develop time bound action plans for fulfilling their obligations under these laws. “It is about time that the government is proactive by taking practical measures to assure citizens that the natural resources of the country are being managed transparently”, says Jonathan W. Yiah, Coordinator of the organization. “As citizens, we must ensure that the government is committed to implementing these progressive legislations that promise transparency in the natural resource sector"” he concluded.