Nigeria Auditor General Office Blacklisted for Lack of Transparency

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.

 

Media Rights Agenda Inducts JAMB Into ‘FOI Hall of Shame’

By Kehinde Ayantunji
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) emerged today as this week’s inductee into the Freedom of Information (FOI) “Hall of Shame” as Media Rights Agenda (MRA) accused it of consistently failing to implement the FOI Act and to fulfill its obligations under the Law over the last six years.
Between 2011, when the FOI Act was passed into Law, and the present time, JAMB ought to have submitted six annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act but it has not actually submitted a single report, MRA said in a statement in Lagos explaining the choice of JAMB for induction into the FOI Hall of Shame.
In addition, MRA noted, JAMB has not fulfilled its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the Act as it has not published either on its website or anywhere else, the 16 categories of information that it is required by the FOI Act to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.
Other aspects of the FOI Act which MRA accused JAMB of disregarding include Section 2(3)(f) and Section 13 of the Act.  Section 2(3)(f) mandates every public institution to publish the title and address of the appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent, which JAMB has failed to do.
Under Section 13, every government or public institution is required to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right to access information and records held by the government or public institution for the effective implementation of the Act.  MRA noted that although this is mandatory, JAMB had not carried out any such training for its officials since the Act was passed into Law six years ago.
MRA said it did not have enough information to make a definitive statement on the level of JAMB’s responsiveness to requests for information from members of the public, arguing that JAMB itself is to blame for this situation as it has repeatedly failed make returns to the Attorney-General of the Federation on this issue, as the Law requires it to do.
It observed that JAMB’s blatant disregard for the mandatory provisions of the Act clearly has far reaching negative implications for both the effective implementation of the Law, as it affects both the right and ability of members of the public to request and obtain information from it, as well as the capacity of oversight bodies, namely the Attorney-General of the Federation and the National Assembly, to assess the level of implementation of the Act by JAMB.
MRA’s Freedom of Information Programme Manager, Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, said: “There can be no doubt that given the functions of JAMB, the destiny of millions of young Nigerians rests with the institution.  Over the years, while millions have been positioned to achieve their lives’ career goals through JAMB, the hopes of millions of others have also been dashed by JAMB. It is therefore not inconceivable that JAMB is a public institution that a lot of Nigerians, especially the youths, want information from for many different reasons, including to enable them to prepare for and achieve their goals in life.”
Illustrating some of the challenges posed by JAMB’s nonchalance towards its duties and obligations under the Act, Mr. Sulaimon stated that “By failing to designate an appropriate officer to whom requests for information should be sent and not publishing the title and address of such an officer, thousands or perhaps millions of Nigerians seeking information from JAMB would not know who to direct their requests for information to.”
Besides, Mr. Sulaimon said, as a result of the failure of JAMB to submit its annual implementation report over the last six years, the vital statistical information which the reports are supposed to provide to members of the public, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant committees of the National Assembly are lost.
According to him, “Owing to the failure of JAMB to submit its annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation, we are unable to determine the number of applications for information that JAMB received during each year and number of such applications that it processed; we do not know how many requests for information JAMB has granted or how many were still pending by the end of each year; we have no information about the total amount of fees collected from those seeking information or the number of days it takes JAMB to process different types of applications for information; we also do not know the number of full-time staff that JAMB devotes to processing applications for information, among others.”
MRA stressed that in the light of the far-reaching negative implications of JAMB’s failure to comply with the provisions of the FOI Act for the rights of Nigerians and the fact that its failure to implement the Act amounts to an intentional disrespect for the Law, such behaviour ought not to be allowed to continue.
MRA launched the “FOI Hall of Shame” on July 3 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.