Liberian President Sirleaf has issued Executive Order #38 which instructs public officials to jealously protect and withhold public information that are "confidential and classified". The Order, which is subdivided into nine sub-parts, requires public servants to take on a mantle of total secrecy.
The article goes on to discuss the difficulties for public servants charged with processing FOIs but being pressured by senior management and the government to avoid releasing any embarrassing material.
The situation is not limited to any particular country or government. After over 20 years dealing with NSW FOIs I can confirm from first hand experience there is still a culture, in some senior government public servants and, in particular, those involved as Ministers’ staffers, to block embarrassing material no matter what the law might say. For some reason that eludes me, some people who work for Ministers seem to think the law doesn’t apply to them and they go blithely about interfering with the FOI process without care or concern over possible consequences.
With the introduction of the Government Information (Public Access) Act in 2010 it became a criminal offence:
for an GIPA Officer to make a decision that s/he knows is against the Act;
for a senior officer to direct an GIPA officer to make such a decision or to act against the spirit of the Act;
for anyone to try and influence an GIPA Officer to make such a decision;
for someone to lie in order to try an obtain access to information or documents; and
for anyone to destroy or conceal documents or information in order to avoid having to provide them to the GIPA Officer.
This sounds good, but, as yet, as far as I am aware, no one has been convicted of any offences. Yet I am sure it still goes on, as it did under the previous Government.
I gave evidence to the NSW Ombudsman of instances where documents went to the Minister’s Office and stayed there for months before approval was received to release them. And this happened on many occasions with more than one Minister and in governments of all persuasions.
It is so typical that governments come in from the opposition full of commitment to be open and accountable. They happily give out documents from the previous governments, but once it comes to giving out their own mistakes and errors, they invariably lose their way. All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men (and women) to do nothing.