How Open is the Liberian Government?
By Brooks Marmon, Accountability Architect.
Making information more open and transparent helps governments spend revenues more effectively, improve services and, importantly, build trust with citizens. Recently, the Government of Liberia, led by its Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism (MICAT) convened a forum of key government stakeholders and civil society organizations to assess the progress of Liberia’s National Action Plan under the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a platform in which governments to commit to advancing transparency, accountability, public participation, and innovation.
The Accountability Lab has been an active member on the MICAT convened OGP Steering Committee and is working closely with iLab Liberia to develop web portals that convey important government data to the public. The Accountability Lab is also leading low-tech efforts to provide Liberians with similar information in an off-line forum, including projects like a civic education column in the Daily Talk, a chalk news board at one of the busiest intersections in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.
The forum featured updates from several ministries and government agencies on their progress in meeting commitments under the Government’s OGP Action Plan. The Ministry of Finance spoke on the deployment of electronic billboards to convey information to citizens as part of its own Open Budget Initiative. Several high-ranking government officials (including Ministers and Senators) attended the event, signifying Liberia’s commitment to open, transparent governance. Lewis Brown, Minister of Information noted the urgent need for ‘a society that is just, that is free, that is accountable’ and promised that the government ‘will hold [it’s] side of the partnership’ while calling on civil society to play its role as well.
Other speakers representing the government and civil society noted that Liberia has taken instrumental steps, such as passing the first Freedom of Information Act in West Africa, but as one high-ranking government official noted, ‘it is clear our work has just begun.’
Through a variety of means, the Accountability Lab is contributing to the movement that will lead to the fulfillment of the Government’s OGP action plan and the call for transparency from Minister Brown and other presiding officials. One participant at the meeting voiced the valid concern that such events only serve to convene like-minded individuals – and the process of open government has to be inclusive to be most effective.
From our work promoting accountability to youth through film, soccer, and the arts, to community mediation in West Point, the poorest community in Monrovia, the Accountability Lab strives to ensure that the transparency, accountability and integrity agenda in Liberia is accessible and understandable by all Liberians. There is some way to go in terms of open government, but progress is being made in this corner of West Africa.