In November 2012, the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) requested copies of asset declaration forms of Cabinet ministers and their deputies. The Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC) asked CEMESP to pay the cost of reproducing the declaration forms, but later denied the request based on Liberia Freedom of Information Act. In particular, LACC alleged that requested information fell within the definition of personal information and according to Section 4.5 of the information act was exempt from disclosure (para. 9). Additionally, the disclosure would be in breach of the LACC’s duty under Section 10.3 of Executive order No.38, indicating that declaration was a classified information only accessible to the authorized personnel. Lastly, the CEMESP was constitutionally privileged from disclosure in the absence of a court order (para. 11).
In January 2013, CEMESP submitted a complaint to the Independent Information Commissioner about the LACC’s denial, seeking the commissioner’s intervention and grant of access.
The information commissioner first referred to alleged exemptions provision of the Freedom of Information Act. While the commissioner agreed that asset declarations fall within personal information, applying public interest test it concluded that LACC failed to prove existence of “harm” that would be “greater than public interest in having information disclosed” (para. 14).
With respect to Section 10.3 of Executive Order No. 38, the commissioner established that the latter act is inconsistent with Freedom of Information Act. The commissioner concluded that in the event of clash of norms, according to section 1.7 of FOI, the latter has primary value and prevails over administrative orders (para. 16).
Lastly, referring to the Article 16 of the Constitution, the commissioner concluded that the disclosure would not constitute “unwarranted intrusion” or disturbance of privacy rights, but rather strengthen the fight against corruption (para.17).
Judgement of the Commissioner.