The Executive director of the Liberia Media Center (LMC) has implored the Liberian Legislature to stop dragging its feet and pass the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Mr. Lawrence Randall said the FOIA need to be passed into law if the government's acclaimed fight against corruption and its successful execution of the Poverty Reduction Strategy are achieved.
The FOIA was sent to the Legislature several months ago and is still docked on the shelf of the House of Representatives which needs to first pass it before the Senate can concur. It will then be signed by the President and printed into handbill before becoming law.
If passed into law the FOIA will, among others, give journalist and the public the legal right to request information and other documents from government officials, especially those relating to scandals and dark-clouded deals.
Mr. Randall made the call recently when the LMC on May 15 released two publications on the implementation of the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy - a "Journalists' Guide on Reporting Liberia PRS" and a ground-breaking Media Monitoring Report and assessment of information flow on the process.
He called for the "immediate passage of the Access to Information Act, as this could provide citizens an opportunity to demand development information and progress on the implementation of the County Development Agenda and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper."
Liberia's PRS articulates the Government's overall vision and major strategies for moving toward rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth and development during the period 2008-2011.
The PRS is being implemented between April 1, 2008 and June 30, 2011 (the end of the 2010/2011 fiscal year). This period, the government says, is of critical importance as Liberia shifts from post-conflict stabilization to laying the foundation for inclusive and sustainable growth, poverty reduction, and progressing toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The donor-dependent US$1.6bn program is crafted with four major pillars including enhancing Peace and National Security, Governance and the Rule of Law, Economic Revitalization and Rehabilitation of Infrastructures and Delivery of Basic Social Services.
Mr. Randall indicated that with the FOIA in place, Liberia would be joining other nations of the world to promote accountability in government and make government officials to respond to the queries of the public when it comes to utilizing resources, among others.
The media monitoring project is being supported by the Senegal-based TrustAfrica to monitor and analyze media coverage on the implementation of Liberia's PRS, to determine the quality and quantity of reports and to gauge the flow of information from various pillar groups on the process.
Results from the review show that though the media produced an average of fourteen (14) news items daily from January 2009–April 2009—a ratio of at least one news item to each of the fourteen outlets—the quality of content remains a daunting challenge for both the print and broadcast sectors.
"Combined, both sectors produced an impressive 1,534 articles on development related issues and the Poverty Reduction Strategy process. But there's a serious content quality problem especially amongst the smallest and least funded outlets. Troubling also is the poor performance of the state-owned media (ELBC), which receives government subsidy but performed very poorly on covering the process. There's a need for conversation regarding the future of ELBC, as in its current form it will not provide the required appeal to public trust and respectability," the report said.
It noted that where government has made good strives in meeting deliverables, progress has been poorly communicated.
"This calls into question the efficacy of the government communication strategy and the need to streamline this strategy across various pillars, as in its current form the strategy is more of awareness raising then a sustained approach to keeping information in the public domain both at the local and national levels. Also, the virtual lack of resources at the Ministry of Information suggests that centralizing the strategy would otherwise impede the timely dissemination of information on progress across the various pillars," the report noted before recommending to government to "first...ensure the immediate passage of the Access to Information Act, as this could provide citizens an opportunity to demand development information and progress on the implementation of the CDA and PRSP."
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