Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
Ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are not complying with the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011, a new report released yesterday by the Right to Know, a civil society organisation, has revealed.
The report, which was released to mark the first celebration of the Universal Access to Information Day, stated that the National Assembly which passed the bill that eventually became the FoI Act five years ago, had never complied with the provisions of the Act.
The Act requires all public institutions to proactively disclose certain information including how many staff they have, their salaries, grade levels and many more. However, the report found that this provision of the Act was not being complied with.
The report assessed compliance by public institutions in Nigeria with two key provisions of the FoI Act: Section 2(3 &4) relating to the provision on Proactive Disclosure—and Section 29 (1,2 &3) obligating an FoI Annual Submission to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).
In a statement which accompanied the report, Right to Know’s National Coordinnator, Ms. Ene Nwankpa, pointed out that “The 44 public institutions that submitted FoI annual reports in 2016, represent just a fraction of over 800 public institutions in existence.”
According to her, an assessment of the websites of 43 out of the 44 public institutions that submitted FoI annual reports to the Office of the AGF in 2016, indicates a below average compliance mark with the proactive disclosure provisions.
“The Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) is the only institution with a dedicated FoI portal for receiving and responding to electronic FoI requests and publishing information,” she added.
The report indicated a decline in the submission of FoI annual reports by public institutions to the AGF. While 60 institutions out of 800 submitted such reports to the AGF in 2015 only 44 submitted in 2016.
Nwankpa who expressed concern at this low level compliance with the provisions of the FoI Act said: “Even the National Assembly that enacted the FoI Act in 2011 has till date never submitted an FoI annual report to the AGF since the law was passed.
”As an oversight institution that receives FoI reports made by public institutions through the AGF, it has become questionable whether the National Assembly has the legitimacy to hold any public institution accountable for non-compliance.”
Right to Know called on President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Head of Civil Service to ensure compliance with the law saying that it would help his fight against corruption tremendously.
“I think the president has a lot to gain if he enforces compliance with FoI Act having made the fight against corruption the pillar of his administration,” Nwankpa said.
She also called on the government toput in place sanctions for defaulting public institutions to enforce compliance with the FoI Act.
She emphasised the fact that the FoI Act was one of the most potent systemic tools which could be used to support the current administration’ s anti-corruption policy.