Media Rights Agenda (MRA) Monday, inducted the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) into its enhanced Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame and promised to take legal action against the Commission for its blatant disregard of its obligations under the FOI Act in violation of the rights of the public to information.
In a statement issued in Lagos by its FOI Programme Manager, Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, MRA said despite its responsibility of overseeing a huge federal civil service, the Commission has ignored virtually all its duties as a public institution as defined by the FOI Act, thereby consistently sending a wrong signal to other public institutions under its supervision with the result that, unsurprisingly, many of those public institutions and their officials have themselves repeatedly violated the provisions of the Act.
Noting that the Commission was established by section 153(1) of the 1999 Constitution(as amended) as a federal executive body empowered to appoint persons to offices in the federal civil service and to dismiss or exercise disciplinary control over persons holding such office, Sulaimon said: “This is a huge responsibility that requires the Commission, which essentially serves as the engine room of the government, to be transparent in order to protect its integrity and enjoy credibility with those it superintends over as well as to comply with all applicable laws and regulations so that it can enforce these and others laws and regulations with respect to the public institutions and officials under its supervision.
According to him, “The Commission can have no credibility in exercising disciplinary control over members of the public service for breaches of relevant laws and regulations and its efforts in this regard cannot be effective when it is itself in breach of its duties and obligations under a Law validly made by the National Assembly.
The hypocrisy in such an exercise will be a major encumbrance to the performance of the Commission’s functions and the realization of its objectives.”
Sulaimon accused the Commission of failing to proactively publish the range of information and documents that it is required to disclose by the Law; refusing to designate an FOI Desk Officer; not providing the appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act; and consistently neglecting to submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation its annual FOI implementation reports, all of which are mandatory requirements of the Law.
He stressed that it was evident from the website of the Commission that it is in breach of the requirements of section 2(3)f of the FOI Act which imposes an obligation on all public institutions to proactively publish the title and address of the appropriate officer to whom applications for information under the Act should be made by members of the public.
“Such level of impunity should not be tolerated in any decent society and it amazes us that a government that expects ordinary citizens and its officials to obey the law allows an institution of the government with such massive coordinating and supervisory roles to get away with such blatant disregard for a valid and subsisting law, thereby presenting an image of a lawless society and a government that condones lawlessness.”
He added that: “An approach to governance in which government officials and institutions disobey the law, sets a bad example for ordinary citizens and robs the government of legitimacy as well as the moral authority to enforce any law against citizens.
It is even more disheartening when the law in question is one aimed at fostering transparency and accountability in government and where the government involved is one that claims to be championing a war against corruption.”
Mr. Sulaimon said MRA was extremely concerned that despite an earlier induction of the Commission into the FOI Hall of Shame about two years ago in which the organization highlighted its various transgressions, the Commission had made no effort to improve on its performance in the implementation of the FOI Act and had continued to operate in total disregard for the Law.
According to him, given these circumstances, MRA had no other option but to take legal steps to compel the Commission to comply with its obligations under the Act in accordance with the provisions of the Law.