Media Rights Agenda (MRA), on Monday, inducted the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) as its 65th inductee into the “Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame” for the agencies failure to implement the FOI, six years after its implemtation.
The group said it was extremely concerned about the pervasive culture of non-compliance with the FOI Act across government institutions with no single one of them having ever been sanctioned for violating the Law.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA’s FOI Programme Manager, Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon said:
“We are gravely concerned that in an administration that came to power riding on the promise of change, with a pledge to institute transparency and accountability in governance and fight corruption, there is no single instance where the government has taken measures to sanction public institutions under its direct control which are violating the FOI Act and thereby advancing the culture of secrecy in government which enables corruption to thrive.”
According to him, by its failure to rigorously implement the FOI Act and sanction public institutions and officials that willfully violate the Law, the Federal Government is sending a signal to all government institutions and officials that it will condone their transgressions.
“The Government is thereby wittingly or unwittingly encouraging public institutions to break the law with an assurance of impunity.”
Mr. Sulaimon noted that “the PTDF is the fifth public institution in the oil and gas sector to be inducted into the FOI Hall of Shame in just over one year, which is clear evidence of a systematic and institutionalised culture of secrecy that envelopes the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, fueled by a widespread conspiracy to frustrate any effort to make the sector transparent and accountable to the public.”
According to him, public institutions in the sector that have previously been inducted into the FOI Hall of Shame are the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which was inducted in July 2017; the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF), inducted in March 2018; the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, inducted in June 2018; and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), which was inducted in August 2018.
He stressed that “This situation strongly suggests that there is a sector-wide resistance to transparency and accountability, which should be a matter of concern to all Nigerians, given that our economic fortunes are largely dependent on the same sector.”
Mr. Sulaimon said: “We continue to be confounded by this incredible reality that despite all the revelations about the violation of the FOI Act and other laws by these institutions, the routine disregard for other rules and regulations by the institutions and the level of corruption plaguing the sector, which has impoverished the country and its citizens, the government appears totally helpless to intervene as no single official has been held accountable.”
Explaining the basis of PTDF’s induction, he said the institution was assessed based on at least five of the key obligations of public institutions under the FOI Act and the Attorney-General’s Guidelines on the Implementation of the FOI Act, noting that, just like its sister institutions earlier inducted into the FOI Hall of Shame, the PTDF failed woefully in all the indices.
Mr. Sulaimon said the PTDF was assessed on the level of compliance with its obligations to provide information to members of the public on request, submit annual implementation reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation, proactively publish defined sets of information, train its staff and officials on the public’s right of access to information as well as to designate and publish the contact details of its FOI Desk Officer.
On the obligation to provide information on request, he noted that “Important statistical data and information to assess the level of compliance with this duty are unavailable as a result of the failure of the PTDF to submit its annual implementation reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation. We are, therefore, unable to determine the number of applications for information that the PTDF has received and number of such applications that it processed. We also do not know how many requests for information it has granted or denied over the years.”
But Mr. Sulaimon said: “While there is no indication that the PTDF has ever granted any request for information, we are aware that the institution has been sued by the Abuja-based non-governmental organization, the Public and Private Development Centre, for failing to provide the organization the information that it requested.”
He observed that between 2011, when the FOI Act was enacted, and February 1, 2018, the PTDF ought to have submitted seven annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act, but the institution has not submitted any report during this period, in breach of Section 29 of the Act.
Mr. Sulaimon also accused the PTDF of failing to fulfil its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the Act as it has not published either on any its website, or anywhere else, the 16 categories of information that it is required by the Act to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online.
According to him, although Section 13 of the FOI Act requires every government or public institution to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and records held by the institution for the effective implementation of the Act, the PTDF has also failed to comply with this provision.
On the PTDF’s obligation to designate an FOI Desk Officer, Mr. Sulaimon said the Database of FOI Desk Officers available at the Federal Ministry of Justice, which is the oversight institution for the implementation of the FOI Act, indicates that the PTDF has not designated any official to whom requests for information should be made and has not published the name of any such official as required by Section 2(3)(f) of the Act.
He called on the Media, civil society organizations and other stakeholders to focus attention on the PTDF and its activities, noting that such complete opacity in an institution which has been given enormous resources and the responsibility for training and educating Nigerians to become professionals and experts in the petroleum industry calls for scrutiny.