July 31, 2013

Attorney-Gen, HOCSF task civil servants on information control

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA — Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Bello Adoke, and the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Alhaji Bukar Aji, yesterday, enjoined civil servants to shift from culture of secrecy to transparency in the conduct of government affairs.

Speaking at a two-day workshop on two years of implementation of the Freedom of Information, FoI, Act, 2011, in Abuja yesterday, Adoke said that the Goodluck Jonathan administration signed the FoI Bill into law because of his commitment to openness and transparency.

Adoke said that failure by parastatals, government agencies and ministries to comply with the Act would frustrate the commitment of the administration to transparency.

He, therefore, called on government agencies to appoint information officers, who would handle requests for information.

Adoke said that government remained committed to transparency and would implement the FoI Act to the letter.

In his remarks, the Head of Service said: “Reluctance or lack of desire by public officers to shift from a culture of secrecy to one of transparency has also been identified as a militating factor against the implementation of the Act.”

He, however, said that efforts were being made by his office and the AGF’s office to encourage and demand that public bodies go beyond SERVICOM and establish FoI units and help line for public use.

Aji said that there had been challenges in the implementation of the law. One of such challenges he said, was the seven-day time limit within which information must be provided.

He said: “The system is not yet fully digitalised to cope with this. It may, therefore, be necessary to review the time limit.

“I recommend its review from seven to 14 days within which information under the Act may be disclosed.”

He also stated that records-keeping remained a challenge and suggested that proper organisations of records and digitalisation be adopted to facilitate easy access to records.

Also speaking, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, commended President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Assembly for passing the FoI Bill into law.

He, however,  noted that compliance with the FoI Act remained very low.