Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today inducted the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (Management) Board into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame, saying the Board’s refusal to be transparent and its preference for cult-like secrecy in its operations only serve to heighten questions about its continued relevance in light of its failure to achieve the objectives for which it was established.
The Board was established in 1975 by Decree No. 9 of 1975, which was later amended in 1989 by Decree No. 32 of 1989, to offset the inequality in the transportation cost of distributing petroleum products in different parts of Nigeria in order for the Government to be able maintain a uniform pricing system for such products all over the country.
The primary responsibility of the Board is to reimburse petroleum marketing companies for any losses suffered by them, solely and exclusively, as a result of their selling petroleum products at uniform prices throughout the country.
The mandate of the Board is therefore to ensure that the Uniform Pricing Mechanism that the Federal Government introduced during the period worked effectively throughout Nigeria and that each marketing company complied with the laws regarding the management of the transportation equalisation process.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA’s Legal Officer, Ms Chioma Nwaodike, noted that “More than 40 years after the Board was established, it is clear that it has failed to deliver on the objectives that motivated its establishment, given that the pricing of petroleum products has never been uniform across the country all through these years.
Perhaps, some transparency about the activities of the Board may have enabled us to understand what exactly it does and whether there is any reason for its continued existence in light of its apparent spectacular failure.”
According to Ms Nwaodike, “having been charged with the responsibility for reimbursing petroleum marketing companies for losses suffered by them as a result of their sale of petroleum products at uniform prices throughout the country, for which it is expending public funds in this regard, the Board owes Nigerians a duty to keep them informed about every aspect of its operations including what it gets annually from the national budget, how much it is expending for various purposes, who the beneficiaries of its reimbursement scheme are, how the reimbursements are calculated, among other things. Unfortunately, it is not doing this.”
She accused the Board of flouting and rendering meaningless its mission statements to its various stakeholders, including its statement to marketers “to be a prime and transparent organization, for the timely reimbursement of marketers’ transportation claims” as well as its statement to Nigerians to be “a responsible, accountable and efficient parastatal facilitating the distribution of petroleum products nationwide at approved prices”.
Ms Nwaodike said by brazenly neglecting to comply with its statutory obligations under the FOI Act, the Board makes nonsense of its mission statement where it says it aims to be a “transparent organization” and an “accountable and efficient parastatal” as well as listing ‘integrity’ as one of its core values.
She observed that by consistently failing over the past seven years to comply with its proactive publication obligations in Section 2 (3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act to publish and disseminate 16 classes of information as well as review and update them whenever changes occur, the Board is demonstrating its clear disdain for the laws of the land, the ideals of democracy, and the core values it claims guide its operations.
According to her, “although the Board has published information that can best be described as innocuous, it however failed to publish some vital information that the Act requires it to proactively publish and disseminate including, but not limited to, documents containing information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution; documents containing the names, salaries, titles and dates of employment of all employees and officers of the institution; and a list of files containing applications for any contract, permit, grants, licenses or agreements, etc.”
Ms Nwaodike noted that the Board has also refused to submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation any report on its implementation of the Act for seven consecutive years, in clear defiance of Section 29 (1) and (2) of the FOI Act and the Guidelines on the Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 issued by the Attorney General of the Federation, the oversight agency for the FOI Act, as the Board has neither submitted any report nor made any such report available to the public in any form whatsoever.
She also accused the Board of not providing appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act at any time in all the seven years that the law has been in operation, as it is required to do under Section 13 of the FOI Act.
Noting that there is no single reference to the FOI Act on the Board’s website, Ms Nwaodike observed that the Board has acted over the last seven years as if the Law does not exist and continued to conduct its functions and operations in cult-like secrecy.
Launched on July 3, 2017, the FOI Hall of Shame shines the spotlight on public officials and institutions undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.