By Kehinde Ayantunji
Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has named the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame for what the organisation described as brazen disregard for access to information through FOI Act.
MRA said the conduct of office evidenced by its non-compliance with virtually all aspects of the FOI Act over the last six years.
Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, MRA’s Freedom of Information Programme Manager, who announced the induction in a statement in Lagos on Wednesday, noted that the Office of the Auditor-General is charged with auditing and reporting on the public accounts of the Federation as well as those of all offices and courts of the Federation.
According to him, the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation itself ought to be transparent and accountable if it hopes to fulfill its mandate of ensuring accountability in the management of public resources.
Sulaimon said: “by virtue of his functions, the Auditor-General has a uniquely complete overview of the utilization and management of public funds. His conduct in the performance of his functions can either serve to instill public confidence in the government or erode any trust that citizens might otherwise have”.
“The Office of the Auditor-General should understand the importance of access to information being an institution whose mandate requires the Auditor-General or any person authorised by him to have access to all the books, records, returns and other documents relating to the accounts it audits and reports on.”
He observed that while the Office of the Auditor-General has a regularly updated website, no information relating to its implementation of the Freedom of Information Act can be found on the platform, indicating that it either does not implement the Act or that it has no knowledge of its obligations under the Law, including the obligation to proactively publish the categories of information stated in Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act and ensure that the information is widely disseminated and made available to members of the public through various means, as required by the Act.
“There is no indication that the Office of the Auditor-General has complied with Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act which requires the agency, as a public institution, to designate an appropriate officer to whom applications for information under the Act should be sent and to proactively publish the title and address of the officer.”
“In the six years since the enactment of the FOI Act, the Office of the Auditor-General has not submitted a single annual report to the Attorney-General of the Federation as required by Section 29(1) of the Act,” adding that “it is unconscionable that while in such flagrant breach of his statutory duty to report to the Attorney-General of the Federation on his implementation of the FOI Act, the Auditor-General of the Federation expects other public institutions to comply with their constitutional duty to submit accounts and records to his office.”
MRA also pointed out that the failure of the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to submit its annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation makes it difficult to ascertain how responsive it has been to requests for information as such reports would have provided the relevant information about the number of applications for information that it has received annually over the last six years and the number of such applications that it processed, granted or refused, alongside other details that it is required by the Act to provide in its report to the Attorney-General.
Instead, he said, there is little or no information available on its handling of FOI requests, making it is difficult to determine the extent of the implementation of the FOI Act by the Office of the Auditor-General.
“MRA’s assessment of the poor level of implementation of the FOI Act by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation was consistent with the findings of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) in its 2017 ranking of 166 public institutions released on September 28, 2017, based on an assessment of the levels of public access to procurement related records and information, such as information on procurement plans, procurement processes and capital expenditure.”
“The Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation was among the worst performing public institutions in PPDC’s FOI rankings, having scored zero for proactive disclosure and zero for responsiveness to requests for information from members of the public and an overall grade of zero for its general disclosure of information under the FOI Act.”
“Despite the provisions of Section 13 of the FOI Act, there is also no indication that the Auditor-General’s Office has provided the required training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information or on the implementation of the Act at any time in the last six years.”
“the fundamental function of the Auditor-General’s Office is the protection of the public interest by performing detailed and objective examinations of public accounts and timely reporting of its findings. If the institution is to help the country do more in tackling corruption and enhancing accountability as recently reiterated by the President at the launch and public presentation of the institution’s five-year Strategic Development Plan on September 21, 2017, it is imperative that the institution takes urgent steps to implement the Act and fulfill its obligations under the Law.” Sulaimon said.
Launched by MRA on July 3, 2017, the “FOI Hall of Shame” names an inductee once every week to highlight public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.