…warns of erosion of public trust in government
Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today named the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) as the latest inductee into its “Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame” and warned that the pervasive culture of lack of compliance with the FOI Act is eroding public trust in the Government and its agencies.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA’s Programme Officer, Mr. John Gbadamosi, said NAICOM’s selection by MRA’s Programme Team, was based on the Commission’s failure to live by its core values which include transparency, integrity and efficiency, having also failed to implement and comply with most of its obligations under the FOI Act while denying citizens the right to obtain information from it.
Mr. Gbadamosi said: “We are extremely concerned that there appears to be an endless stream of public institutions just waiting to be inducted into the Freedom of Information Hall Shame, a recognition that no self-respecting institution should desire.”
He noted that “It is particularly worrisome that a public institution like NAICOM, established to foster public trust and confidence in the insurance system, prefers to operate in secrecy and disregard a fundamental law of the land aimed at enabling the public to access information about government and its agencies.”
Mr. Gbadamosi argued that in the face of such a pervasive attitude among so many public institutions, it is difficult for citizens to believe that government bodies are actually conducting their business in the interest of the public and that citizens can trust them.
He said: “It is apparent the public cynicism towards the government is on the increase as public trust and confidence in the government is being eroded at an alarming rate. There is no doubt that the lack of transparency and accountability is largely responsible for this situation as many agencies of government are decidedly but unnecessarily being secretive about their affairs.”
NAICOM is an agency of the Federal Government established by the National Insurance Commission Act of 1997 and tasked with responsibility for ensuring the effective administration, supervision, regulation and control of insurance business in Nigeria.
Itemizing NAICOM’s breaches of the FOI Act and its transparency obligations, Mr. Gbadamosi noted that: “Although the Commission has published some of its operational guidelines along with other financial reports, it has not fulfilled the rest of its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the FOI Act as it has not published either on its website or anywhere else, other categories of information that are part of the 16 classes of information that the Act requires all public institutions to proactively publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources”.
In particular, he pointed out that the Commission has not designated an officer to whom requests for information should be sent, and has also not proactively published the title and address of the officer either on its website or anywhere else, as required by Section 2(3)(f) of the Act and the FOI Implementation Guidelines issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Mr. Gbadamosi also accused the Commission of failing to comply with its obligation under Section 29 of the Act by failing to submit any of the seven reports it ought to have submitted as of February 1, 2018 to the Attorney- General of the Federation on its implementation of the FOI Act since the enactment of the Law in 2011.
He cited information from the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), an Abuja-based non-governmental organisation, indicating that NAICOM has not consistently responded to requests for information.
For instance, Mr. Gbadamosi said, NAICOM did not respond to a request for information dated January 30, 2015, made by PPDC under the FOI Act in which the organization asked for details of the sums approved for the Commission as capital warrants in the first, second, third and fourth quarters of 2014.
He recounted that NAICOM also failed to respond to an FOI request made to it on August 16, 2016 by PPDC, which asked for the list of contracts awarded by it in the year 2015 and the procurement plan within its approval threshold for the year 2016.
He added that although PPDC sent a reminder about the request to NAICOM on September 5, 2016, there has been no response till date.
Mr. Gbadamosi said NAICOM also refused to respond to another application for information made on January 25, 2017 by PPDC, requesting records of payment for capital projects released to it in 2016, the list of contracts awarded by NAICOM in 2016 and the procurement plan within its approval threshold for the year 2017.
He contended that since the requested information did not fall under any of the exemptions in the Act, it can be deduced that the only logical reason why the Commission refused to provide the information or respond to the request is its total disregard for the FOI Act and other laws of Nigeria, adding that “the information should ordinarily have been proactively published both under the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and Section 2 of the FOI Act”
Mr. Gbadamosi noted that NAICOM has also failed to comply with Section 13 of the FOI Act, which requires all public institutions to train their officials on the public’s right of access to information and to equip relevant officials with the skills to ensure the effective implementation of the Act.
MRA called on the management of NAICOM to take urgent measures to improve the image of the Commission by putting systems in place to ensure that it complies with all its obligations under the FOI Act and the guidelines issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
It also urged the Attorney-General of the Federation to step up his efforts at ensuring the effective implementation of the FOI Act by ensuring that NAICOM and other public institutions to which the Act applies comply with and implement its provisions.
Launched on July 3, 2017, the FOI Hall of Shame focuses attention on public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.