Despite N514 million budget in 6 years, public institutions still ignore FOI requests

Ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government have continued to ignore requests for public information despite the budgetary allocation of about N514,180,183 for the implementation of freedom of information act (FOIA).

The freedom of information bill was passed into law by former President Jonathan on April 17, 2012 .But the law is yet to guarantee access to public information.

When the FOI Bill was enacted into law, Nigerians hoped that the law would bring an end to secrecy in government business and usher in an era of probity, transparency, and accountability. However, response to requests by non-governmental organisations, civil societies, media and the general public has removed such hopes.

Interestingly, in 2013 budget, N80 million was budgeted for the implementation of FOIA by the office of the head of civil service — the only public institution that made budgetary provision for the implementation of the Act that year.

In 2014, of more than 40 ministries, only five, ministries of culture and tourism, water resources, lands and housing, environment and office of the head of civil service, budgeted N331 million in total for the implementation of FOIA. The ministry of water resources earmarked N3.6 million; ministry of environment — N2 million; ministry of lands and housing — N10 million; ministry of culture and tourism — N295 million and office of the head of civil service earmarked N20 million.

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In 2015 and 2016, ministry of defence budgeted N17.9 million and N31.8 million respectively for providing the public information  that relates to security matters by implementing the freedom of information act.

Also, in 2017, the total amount budgeted for the implementation of FOIA was N53.1 million, shared among four ministries. The ministry of power, works and housing made two provisions in the budget; N5 million for FOIA training and sensitisation programme and N10.8 million for the implementation of FOIA as it relates to the housing sector in the 36 states field offices and the FCT. Ministry of defence budgeted N20 million, ministry of water resources budgeted N11.5 million and ministry of budget and national planning had N5 million for the domestication of FOI.

FOI COMPLIANCE RANKING FOR PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS

The Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), commenced an annual FOI compliance and transparency rankings in 2014. The compliance benchmark used to rank public institutions emanates from the FOIA 2011 and includes levels of proactive disclosure, timelines for disclosing information on request, levels of disclosure on request and the cost of disclosure.

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Ministries, departments and agencies of government have continued to remain adamant to request of public information at their disposal even after four years into the annual FOI compliance ranking of public institutions.

In 2014, the FOI compliance ranking revealed that the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) ranked first out of 67 public institutions that were assessed, with over 40 institutions breaching the FOI law. Specifically, the Ministry of Information — the custodian of information in the country, Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC), Police Service Commission, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources all ranked last among other public institutions as they could not do proactive disclosure, respond to request for information or give full disclosure of public information at their disposal.

It was the same story in 2015 FOI complaince ranking, over 70 public institutions breached the law by not granting request of public information that were sent to them. 116 institutions were ranked, Nigeria Export Promotion (NEPC), Veterinary Council of Nigeria, Consumer Protection Council of Nigeria, Federal Character Commission and National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) all ranked first.

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The 2016 FOI compliance ranking was not different from the previous one. Out of 131 institutions that were ranked, over 100 of them also breached the law. The Bureau for Public Sector Reform (BPSR) came first in the ranking.

In 2017 the Bureau for Public Sector Reform (BPSR) topped a list of 166 public institutions’ compliance with Freedom of Information provisions that require them to proactively and fully disclose public information. The rest 165 flouted at least one requirement.

It was the second year in a row BPSR topped the ranking by the PPDC — this time getting all greens for proactive disclosure, responding to an FOI request within seven day, and fully disclosing information as requested.

From the rankings, it can be established that ministries that have budgetary allocation for the implementation of FOIA don’t have good rankings on the compliance ranking of public institutions.

The question is : If public institutions with budgetary provisions for the implementation of FOIA fail to respond to FOI requests, what was the allocation for? And what was it used for?

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