Violation of FOI Act: Ministry of Foreign Affairs at war with MRA… group calls on Buhari to intervene

Media Right Agenda has tasked President President Muhammadu Buhari, as a matter of urgency to asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja, to comply with the Freedom of Information Law and stopped playing politics with the Act.

Last week, Media Rights Agenda (MRA)  scored the Ministry zero in its weekly rating of agencies and parastatals of the government who are violating the FOI law, seven years after its establishment in the country.

But instead of heading to the instructions raised by the MRA, for the Ministry’s poor performance in the implementation of the FOI Act, as announced by Ms. Chioma Nwaodike, MRA’s Legal Officer, on Monday, November 12, 2018, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. George Ehidiamen Edokpa, issued a public statement wherein the Ministry claimed that it is in compliance with provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, and condemned in strong terms insinuations that the Ministry has consistently breached most of its duties and obligations under the FOI Act over the last seven years.

The statement was apparently in response to an assessment by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) of the Ministry’s poor performance in the implementation of the FOI Act, as announced by Ms. Chioma Nwaodike, MRA’s Legal Officer, on Monday, November 12, 2018.

“It is a matter of grave concern when a public institution like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, financed through public funds, violates our Laws with impunity. It is doubly worrisome when the same institution uses public resources to mislead and deceive the entire country, when it should be taking corrective measures to remedy its lapses.  Such action shows a lack of remorse, insults the intelligence of Nigerians and erodes public trust and confidence in government”, MRA stated.

 

 

 

 

“We call on all relevant authorities, particularly President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Assembly, and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) to strongly condemn this conduct as unworthy of a public institution and make clear that such practices, namely violating the provisions of the Law with impunity and the blatant attempt to deliberately mislead and deceive the Nigerian public, will not be condoned by this administration”.

According to the group, rather than respond to the specific issues of non-compliance which MRA raised, the Ministry has chosen to resort to an omnibus generalization, claiming that the Ministry also engages in periodic and systematic dissemination of relevant information to the public, of its activities and programmes through regular press briefings, as well as press releases organised by the Crises Monitoring and Public Communications Division, adding that MRA was quite clear and specific about the aspects of the FOI Act that it accused the Ministry of failing to comply with.

For the avoidance of doubt, we reaffirm our position that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently breached most of its duties and obligations under the FOI Act over the last seven years, and provide the following particulars.

“Section 2(3)(d)(v) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 requires every public institution to proactively publish “information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution”.  We assert that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in breach of this statutory obligation and has consistently breached this duty over the last seven years and challenge the Ministry to provide any evidence that it is in compliance with this duty under the FOI Act or provide a link to any platform on which it has published this information.

“Section 2(3)(d)(vi) of the Act places an obligation on every public institution to proactively publish “the names, salaries, titles, and dates of employment of all employees and officers of the institution”.  We insist that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in breach of this statutory obligation and has consistently been in breach of the obligation over the last seven years.  We challenge the Ministry to provide any evidence that it is in compliance with this duty under the FOI Act or provide a link to any platform on which it has published this information”, the group added.

“Section 2(3)(f) of the Act places an obligation on every public institution to proactively publish “the title and address of the appropriate officer of the institution to whom an application for information under this Act shall be sent”.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in its statement under reference that “Contrary to the misleading report, there is a Desk Officer in the Ministry assigned to handle requests under the FOI Act.”  We insist that the Ministry is in breach of this statutory obligation to proactively publish the title and address of such an officer, if indeed it has such a Desk Officer.  We further insist that the Ministry has consistently breached this obligation over the last seven years and challenge the Ministry to provide any evidence that it is in compliance with this duty under the FOI Act and provide a link to any platform on which it has published this information.

We note further that the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, which has oversight in the implementation of the FOI Act, has, pursuant to his functions under the Act, repeatedly requested all public institutions to supply the Office with the names and contact details of the FOI Desk Officers and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently failed to supply the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation with the name and contact details or any other information at all relating to its supposed FOI Desk Officer, in consequence of which there is no FOI Desk Officer for the Ministry in the Database of FOI Desk Officers maintained and published by the Federal Ministry of Justice.

“Section 13 of the Act provides that “Every government or public institution must ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right to access to information or records held by government or public institutions, as provided for in this Act and for the effective implementation of this Act.”  We assert that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in breach of this statutory obligation and has consistently breached this duty over the last seven years.  We challenge the Ministry to state the date or dates on which it has provided the required training for its officials, who attended the training, who conducted the training and provide any evidence that such training actually took place”.

Section 29(1) of the FOI Act provides that “On or before February 1 of each year, each public institution shall submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation a report which shall cover the preceding fiscal year …”. As at February 1, 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ought to have submitted seven such reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation. However, in flagrant disregard of the provisions of the Act, the Ministry has to date only submitted one such report to the Attorney-General of the Federation, which was the report it submitted for the year 2013.  We therefore insist that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently been in breach of this obligation over the last seven years.

Section 29(2) of the FOI Act states that “Each public institution shall make such report available to the public, among other means, by computer and telecommunications, or if computer and telecommunications means have not been established by the Government or Public Institution, by other electronic means.”  We therefore challenge the Ministry to state where and how it has made its annual implementation reports available to the public”.

MRA challenge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to state how many applications for information it has received every year over the last seven years, the number of such applications for information that it has processed and granted as well as the number of such applications for information it has denied or ignored.

Explaining that in the face of the facts established, there could be no doubt that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently breached most of its duties and obligations under the FOI Act over the last seven years.

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