Information Ministry, 70 MDAs fail FOI compliance test



NEPC, four institutions top list of disclosure

Despite its remarkable contribution to the enactment of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act in May 2011, the Federal Ministry of Information, alongside other 70 public institutions, have failed the FOI compliance and transparency test conducted by the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC).

The Abuja-based non-governmental body devoted to using FOI law to drive the demand and supply of publicly held information released its 2015 FOI Compliance Rankings for 116 Public Institutions at the weekend. Only 45 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) scored above the average in all the three benchmarks upon which the ranking is based.

The benchmarks are proactive disclosure; responsiveness to requests for information and level of disclosure to requests for information.

Full proactive disclosure is obtained where information on the procurement plans and capital expenditure of a public institution is found on its website. Where a part of this information is found, partial disclosure applied. Where there is no disclosure of procurement-related information on the website of the public institution, there is no proactive disclosure and where there is no full proactive disclosure, a request for information is made. Responsiveness to this request will earn the public institution green (for response within seven days); blue (for response within 14 days); yellow (response within 15 days to infinity); and red (no response).

The  level of disclosure to requests for information also carries green for full disclosure; yellow for partial disclosure and red for no disclosure.

So, a perfect score would have all greens and would indicate full proactive disclosure, responsiveness to requests for information within seven days and full level of disclosure to requests for information. In a case where there is full proactive disclosure, a request for information would not be required.

With emphasis on the assessment of levels of access to procurement-related information from 116 public institutions, information was specifically sought on procurement plans, procurement processes and capital expenditure.

The aim of the ranking, as stated on the PPDC website, is to ensure “that procurement-related information would be liberated and made as coherent as possible; and in a way that enables increased efficiency in public service delivery.”

Under the benchmark of proactive disclosure, all the 116 public institutions listed scored red, an indication that the information being sought is not available on their website. The Ministry of Information’s case became precarious because it scored red in other two benchmarks.

The verdict, PPDC reckoned, was as a result of no response to “FOI Request of Records of Payments for Capital Projects Released to Federal Ministry of Information in 2014” dated January 30, 2015 and acknowledged to have been received at the Office of the Minister, Federal Ministry of Information on February 3, 2015.

The request letter reads in part: “On behalf of Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), and in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, we write to make a request for records with details of the sums approved to your MDA as capital warrants in the first, second third and fourth quarter of 2014.

“We kindly require the information in this regard to include: the name of each project for which capital warrants were approved in the fiscal year 2014; the date the payment approval and release was made to your MDA on each identified project; the amount approved by your MDA after fulfilling procurement procedures; and the amount utilised by your MDA for each of the listed projects within the 2014 fiscal year.

“These projects should include constituency projects as well as all special intervention projects carried out by your MDA.The request is in line with Section 2 (3) and Section 2 (4) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 which require all ‘information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution’ to be ‘widely disseminated and made readily available…’”

The shortcoming of the Information Ministry is similar to other 70 public institutions that got the same red on all the benchmarks. Incidentally, three of the agencies under the Information Ministry: National Broadcasting Commission (NBC); News Agency of Nigeria (NAN); and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) are in this category:

However, Nigerian Export Promotion Council; Veterinary Council of Nigeria; Consumer Protection Council of Nigeria; Federal Character Commission of Nigeria; and National Insurance Commission were on top of the list of the 116 agencies. They got the green mark on responsiveness to requests for information; and level of disclosure to requests for information.

The survey, second in the series, is conducted in collaboration with BudgIT Information Technology Network and the Open Society Initiative of West Africa.

The 2014 maiden edition ranked 67 MDAs with the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and the Office of the Accountant General as most transparent whilst public institutions including the Federal Ministry of Education and the Petroleum Ministry were scored the least transparent.

Ironically, while ICRC is not captured in the 2015 survey, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation got the 18th position.

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