The Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has named the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame and criticised the Ministry for continually failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act for the nearly seven years that the Law has been in existence.
Announcing the induction of the Ministry into the Hall of Shame, MRA’s Director of Programmes, Mr. Ayode Longe, noted that the Ministry was in breach of virtually all its obligations under the FOI Act, saying that it has persistently violated or disregarded its duties under the Law with impunity for nearly seven years.
Mr. Longe said: “The essence of government is to serve the people and it is the right of the people to be served right. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment plays an important role in the Nigerian society. It deals with industrial relations, employment and labour matters, all of which affect the economy of the country as well as the wellbeing of citizens, and as such, the Ministry should be transparent and accountable in all its dealing and should comply with the provisions of all laws, especially those that are aimed at engendering good governance, such as the Freedom of Information Act.”
According to him, “In the light of its persistent non-compliance with relevant laws such as the FOI Act, it is perhaps not surprising that the Ministry has not been able to live up to the expectations of Nigerians in the fulfillment of its mandate, particularly in the area of job creation, with the current unprecedented and intolerably high level of unemployment in country.
Mr. Longe stressed that “Given the clear crises in the labour sector and in industrial relations in the country, it is arguable that more transparency and accountability on the part of government could have elicited better understanding from ordinary citizens about the economic circumstances of the country and some sympathy for the situation that the government has found itself. However, by their reluctance to be transparent and provide citizens with information, public institutions like the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment are not doing themselves or the government in general any favours.”
The statement noted that the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment was failing in its obligation to comply with section 2 of the FOI Act, which requires it to proactively publish certain types of information and update such information regularly, including operational guidelines, manuals, decisions, reports, names and salaries of all employees of the institution, initiatives, programmes and other relevant information.
It also accused the Ministry of not complying with other statutory requirements such as Section 29 of the Act, which places an obligation on the Ministry, like all other public institutions, to submit an annual report to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act. MRA said based on records available from the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, it is clear that the Ministry had not submitted any report to the Attorney-General since the Act was passed into Law in 2011.
Besides, it observed, Section 2(3) (f) of the Act as well as the Implementation Guidelines for the FOI Act issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation require every public institution to designate an officer to whom applications for information should be sent and to proactively publish the title and address of such officer, adding that the Ministry had also failed to designate such an officer or proactively publish any information about how requests for information should be made to the ministry.
MRA said there was no indication that in almost seven years since the enactment of the Act, that the Ministry has provided any training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information or to ensure the effective implementation of the Act by the appropriate officials as stipulated by Section 13 of the Act.
The organization also noted that the failure of the Ministry to submit its annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation over the last seven years has made it impossible to determine whether the Ministry has received or responded to any request for information from members of the public. It added that the availability of such reports would have provided the National Assembly, the Attorney-General of the Federation and members of the public with relevant information and statistical data about the number of applications for information that the Ministry has received and processed, how long it takes the Ministry on the overage to process requests for information, how much it has collected in fees to process such requests for information, among other valuable data.
Mr. Longe explained that in addition to facilitating openness and transparency in government, the FOI Act is also an instrument that enables citizens to better access public services and as such, the Ministry has a duty to fully implement the Act in order to enhance the delivery of its services to the citizens that it ought to be serving.
Media Rights Agenda launched the Freedom of Information Hall of Shame in July 2017 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of information Act, 2011 through their actions or inactions, decisions or utterances.