Liberia: Environment Protection Agency Ordered to Release MNG Cyanide Pollution Report
Monrovia – The Independent Information Commission has mandated Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency to disclose and provide investigation report of a chemical pollution in Bong County to lawyers representing the affected communities.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]
The commission’s ruling comes following hearing of arguments by the Woah and Associates Law Firm, Inc., the firm representing the affected communities, and the EPA.
Giving the final ruling on Wednesday 22 August in Monrovia, the chairman of the Independent Information Commission said that the information sought by the law firm is not a privileged document as argued by the EPA.
“The commissioner finds that the exemption, privileged communications, relied upon by the EPA to deny the complainants’ [the law firm] request is without legal support,” read Commissioner Mark Bedor-Wla Freeman.
“The Commissioner decision is that the information sought should be disclosed and provided to the complainants; and the commissioner, therefore, orders EPA to so do in keeping with the Freedom of Information Act and the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.”
The lawyers were requesting copies of results of various tests and analysis conducted by the EPA and other agencies following the chemical spillage into Sayewheh Town and surrounding villages in Kokoya, Bong County.
But the EPA insistently argued that the document is exempted from the FOI Act since it is a privileged communication. At the same time, the complainant contended that the EPA’s denial and refusal to provide the information was without legal basis and a blatant disregard for the laws.
As part of the ruling, the Information Commission also fined the EPA LRD$9,000 to be paid into government’s revenue within three working days beginning August 22.
Commissioner Freeman stressed that by leaving such conduct by the EPA unpunished it “will, in the long run, undermine its (Information Commission) statutory authority and kill the spirit, letter and the very essence of the FOI Act.”
Meanwhile, a lawyer representing EPA said although the agency accepts the commission’s ruling it will file an appeal.
The cyanide spillage by MNG, a Turkish mining company operating in Kokoya, Bong County, saw over three million gallons of diverse toxic chemicals released in the community by the company and will remain in the environment for decades to come.
Some of the chemical that spill into the community includes cyanide, mercury and lead, which are highly dangerous to the community residents, their water source and flora and fauna.
A report released in June this year also accused the company of failing to make interventions during the chemical spill over, leaving numerous children and women in unattended corridors of the basic medical/nursing facilities without medical treatment.
Woah and Associates Law Firm is seeking compensation for the affected communities and wants the report to build its case against the gold mining company.
Attorney Mack A. Kollie, who represented the law firm during the ruling, said as legal counsel for the affected community it will await the EPA’s appeal process while relying on the ruling to obtain the requisite documents to push the case further.
“We are hoping not to see hitches because this is the law, but early on the EPA has been creating bottlenecks. And we know the EPA could attempt creating hitches but we know that they will be law-abiding,” Atty. Kollie said.