Appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs) (LR0007)
Performance Indicators: Number of PIOs appointed and trained
Number of quarterly reports from CSOs Number of institutions and individuals
receiving quarterly reports Number of staff trained
IRM Midterm Status Summary
For Commitment details, see Liberia Progress Report 2015-2017.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Cluster: Implementation of Freedom of Information Law
1.1 Appointment of Public Information Officers (PIOs) in government agencies and provision of training to fulfill their Terms of Reference.
Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), Independent Information Comission (IIC), Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Carter Center, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP), Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), 1 July 2015-30 May 2016)
· 1.I.I Appoint an additional 50 PIOs.
· 1.I.2 IIC prepares and shares quarterly reports
· 1.I.3 Conduct Capacity building training for staff of IIC
1.2 Popularize the Freedom of Information Law (FOI) and ensure access for more Liberians to the law.
(MICAT, MOF, IIC, and Carter Center, iLab Liberia, CEMESP, CENTAL, 1 July 2015-Ongoing).
· 1.2.1 Design and build an online FOI requests platform
· 1.2.2 Outreach and awareness for citizens across the country through town hall meetings and radio talk shows.
In 2010, Liberia passed the Freedom of Information (FOI) Law, establishing that each public agency and government ministry must have a Public Information Officer (PIO) to handle access to information requests from the public.[Note7: http://www.liberianembassyus.org/uploads/documents/Liberia%20Freedom%20of%20Information%20Act%202010x.pdf] In addition, persons denied information or dissatisfied with a response can seek an appeal from the Information Commissioner, or request an internal or judicial review. Prior to the commitment period, it was difficult to assess government compliance with FOI laws, as there was no system in place to track requests and responses. This was compounded by the fact that the government did not have a strong records management system in place, and did not track or report on numbers of requests, responses and timeframes.
Commitment 1.1 includes steps to appoint and train 50 PIOs. In addition, the Independent Information Commission (IIC) is required to share quarterly reports on recruitment and training practices, as well as government agencies’ compliance with the FOI mandate.
Commitment 1.2 focuses on publicizing the FOI law so that citizens are aware of its purpose and are able to benefit from the changes. Activities include building the online FOI platform for submitting information requests, and conducting outreach to citizens through town hall meetings and radio talk shows in the counties.
Commitment 1.1: Limited
This commitment had limited completion at the midterm. By June 2016, 41 of 50 PIOs had been appointed and civil society partners had carried out the capacity building trainings. However, by the end of the review cycle, the IIC had not published any quarterly reports on recruitment and training practices or government agencies’ in compliance with the FOI law. For more information, please see the 2015–2016 IRM midterm report.
Commitment 1.2: Completed
The IIC has established an online platform “InfoLib” [Note8: InfoLib, http://infolib.org.lr/list/all?#results] to enable citizens to request information. As of January 2017, 95 requests have been made, though only four have received government responses and 89 remain unresolved. The InfoLib tracking system reveals that the government lacks the capacity to respond to requests in a timely manner. The government has carried out awareness-raising activities through town hall meetings in six of the 15 counties. For more information, please see the 2015–2016 IRM midterm report.
Commitment 1.1: Limited
An additional seven PIOs have been appointed and trained, bringing the total to 48 PIOs. These PIOs were serving as Public Relations Officers (PRO) in their respective ministries. Their appointment to serve as a PIO is an additional responsibility in their terms of reference as PRO.[Note9: Emmanuel Howe, Independent Information Commission (IIC), interview by IRM researcher.] Two more PIOs need to be appointed and trained to complete the commitment.
In fulfilling another milestone under this commitment, iLab have conducted five capacity building trainings for IIC staff. Also, in June 2016, iLab Liberia, in collaboration with IIC and the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, conducted a week-long training for all PIOs. The training was an effort to provide the newly appointed PIOs hands-on training on the FOI request platform, as they serve as the primary contact of their authority or agency for the public.
However, a representative from the IIC informed the IRM researcher that the commission has not been able to publish any quarterly reports as they have not received any reports from the PIOs. He also expressed that the public is not fully aware of services on the online platform even though the commission has engaged in educating people about it on various radio shows.[Note10: Emmanuel Howe, Independent Information Commission (IIC), interview by IRM researcher.] For these reasons the commitment level of implementation is still limited. Although PIOs have been appointed, there is no evidence that they are preparing and sharing quarterly reports.
Commitment 1.2: Completed
The online platform has been designed and built (http://www.infolib.org.lr). Also, according to the self-assessment report, the government has carried out awareness activities in seven counties. Pursuant to the FOI Act, the government appointed Cllr. Mark B Freeman as Commissioner for the ICC. One of the commissioner’s primary responsibilities and functions is to develop outreach and a public awareness strategy to provide useful tools and relevant information to the general public on how to access the FOI Act. In this regard the IIC, with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), has conducted awareness outreach in 12 of the 15 counties. Billboards were also erected in strategic locations to increase public awareness.[Note11: Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) 2014-2017 Strategy, http://www.osiwa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/osiwa_2014-2017_for_website_final.pdf]
CSOs maintained that the establishment of the IIC is a step in the right direction to provide information to the public. However, they highlighted that the government needs to fully support the IIC in order for it to be effective in fulfilling its mandate.[Note12: Accountability Lab, Peacework Liberia, iLab, LOFANET and the Global Citizens Initiative were consulted on this topic.] Furthermore, The Carter Center, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has developed “A Citizens’ Guide to the 2010 Liberia Freedom of Information Act”, which has been distributed widely and is accessible online.[Note13: A Citizens’ Guide to the 2010 Liberia Freedom of Information Act, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/ati/liberia/citizens-guide-to-foi-final.pdf] The Carter Center is also implementing a two-year (2016–2018) access to information plan for women in Lofa, Bong and Nimba. This project mainly targets women’s groups to educate them about the FOI Act and how they can request information from government institutions.
Did It Open Government?
Access to Information: Marginal
According to the report from the Carter Foundation[Note14: Findings from Select Agencies: Liberia, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/ati/liberia-iat-country-report.pdf], although the implementation of the FOI Act in Liberia still faces serious challenges, one key positive aspect is the appointment of information officers in the different agencies. Prior to the implementation of this commitment no public information officers (PIOs) were in place. Currently, 48 PIOs are working on the implementation of the FOI Act in Liberia. The Carter Foundation stated that “the basics exist to begin and advance implementation”. However, a representative from the IIC, responsible for supervising and providing technical support to the designated PIOs, indicated a lack of reporting from the newly designated PIOs.[Note15: Emmanuel Howe, IIC, interview by IRM researcher, November 2017.] While PIOs are in place and trained, the results of their work are not visible yet. In view of these considerations, the commitment resulted in a marginal level of opening up the government.
Access to Information: Marginal
Although PIOs have been appointed, the use of the FOI Act to request information remains limited in Liberia. The IIC representative, Emmanuel Howe, stressed more outreach and sensitization about the FOI online request platform is needed. As of November 2017 there are a total of 27 online requests known by the IIC made by citizens to public institutions. From this, only 10 of the public bodies have complied with requests from the public.[Note16: One example includes the request for the annual financial statements from 2008 -2012/13 from Liberia Electricity Corporation and their contribution to the National Budget and Broad. Also the CSO Ebola Response Task Force requested the Ministry of Finance for expenditures made in seven counties from the County Development Fund in the fight against Ebola. Both cases are still pending with the Ministry of Finance failing to appear for court proceedings. For more information, http://iicliberia.org/cases/ The commission officer highlighted to the IRM researcher that more public awareness is needed in relation to online requests. Internet penetration and literacy rates could also be affecting the number of requests people make. The IIC also expressed that it is important to firstly strategize ways in which the already designated PIOs can be more effective before assigning and training additional PIOs. Finally, it is important that the government revise their record management and information storing system so that public institutions can have the information readily available for release.
Commitment 1.1 was carried forward into the third national action plan.[Note17: Liberia’s third national action plan, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/liberia-action-plan-2017-2019 Commitment 3 of the third action plan aims to complete the appointment and training of additional PIOs in all counties and to provide additional trainings to ensure they can fulfill their mandate. The commitment also aims to increase the amount of FOI requests and to ensure the government’s provision of information.