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“Says access to information shouldn’t be downplayed

By Chioma Onuegbu, Uyo

A non governmental organisation created to promote citizens participation in governance processes, Public and Private Development Center, PPDC, has advised Akwa Ibom State Ministeries, Departments, and Agencies, MDAs, to be more responsive to Freedom of Information FOI, requests.

The PPDC which gave the advice on Thursday during a media briefing addressed by the programme officer of its partner, Policy Alert, Mr. Mfon Gabriel on its maiden edition of the sub-national FOI ranking in Akwa Ibom, also advised that state actors should proactively provide public information on government websites.

Gabriel stressed that access to information was important as it gives citizens a voice and knowledge to participate in governance and where necessary, hold governments and institutions accountable for their decisions.

His words: “Since last year, we have been hosting not only the National ranking but also the sub-national ranking going on concurrently in Abuja, Adamawa, Ekiti and Akwa Ibom state. In Akwa Ibom, our partner is Policy Alert.

“For the 2022 Subnational ranking the
Ministries Departments and Agencie(MDAs) were ranked based on the proactive disclosure of information, the responsiveness to requests, and the level of disclosure.

“We conducted the ranking and from our findings, many MDAs in the state continue to ignore or outrightly refuse to honour FOI requests. Most public offices are yet to come to terms with the importance of access to information.

“We use the opportunity of this year’s international right to know day to urge state actors in the region to be more responsive to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and to more proactively provide public information on government websites.

“A total of 24 MDAs were ranked in 2022.The Ministry of Transport and Solid Minerals emerged first position, both the Ministry of Lands and Water Resources and the Ministry of Justice both came 2nd position.The Akwa Ibom State Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) came 4th. The BPP took first position in the 2021 ranking.

“Also the Ministry Of Education emerged 5th Position. However, Government House, Uyo, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Economic Development, Akwa Ibom State Committee on Foreign Direct Investment; Ministry of Environment and Solid Minerals, the Ministry of Science and Technology all came last in the 2022 FOI Ranking in Akwa Ibom”

The PPDC which noted that it was not yet satisfied with the ranking, stressed that it
appears that the state was just professing transparency and accountability as governance ideals, while refusing to honour requests for information from the citizens, civil society, and the media.

He noted that theme of the 2022
International day for access to Information ” “Artificial Intelligence, E-Governance and acess to information” was apt because the current era is dominated by the use of Technology in the day-to-day activities.

“The importance of access to information should not be downplayed and cannot be overemphasized, as it is an avenue to promote human rights and dignity and essentially build a sustainable society for all

“It is also important to note that some states of the Niger Delta have within their Fiscal Responsibility Law provisions that mandate them to comply with requests for information. For instance, section 48 (5) of the Fiscal Responsibility Law (2020) of Akwa Ibom State mandates the government to oblige requests for information.

“The section states “No official secrets law, rule or practice shall operate or be invoked or relied upon by any person to deny, limit or in any way negatively affect the exercise of the right to information conferred by this Law or the Freedom of Information Act upon any person, group, persons, institution, body or agency.

“Section 52 (3) of the law states the penalty for failure to honour such a request. We, therefore call on civil society and media organisations to make effective use of this provision in addition to the FOI Act 2011 to demand transparency and accountability” he noted.

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