Agriculture and Food Security Minister Abu Bakar Karim has emphasized the importance of the mandate of the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC) which he said forms a critical component of Government’s programmes in the Country.
He however expressed concern over the lapses in his Ministry’s compliance with its obligations under the RAI Act 2013. The Minister said this in his Youyi Building office while welcoming a team from the RAIC headed by its Chairman and Information Commissioner, Dr. Ibrahim Seaga Shaw on Thursday 21st July 2022.
In his opening remarks, Dr Shaw said his Commission had previously held a Consultative meeting with a team at the Ministry headed by the Deputy Minister where they were taken through their rights and obligations under the RAI Act, and added that the purpose of this meeting was to draw the attention of the leadership of the Ministry to their lack of engagement with Freedom of Information Requests from the public and other related obligations such as to complete and submit their Proactive Publication Scheme (PDI), and the Annual Compliance Report (ACR) for the previous financial year, and above all its deliberate failure in acknowledging receipts of correspondences from the Commission dating as far back as 2018.
The RAIC CIC gave a brief background of the RAI Law in the Country and underscored its importance in the socio-economic development of the nation. He called on the Ministry to comply with its duty as a public authority in proactively disclosing information for public consumption and to respond to FOI requests to help boost public trust in their service delivery. He warned that the Ministry risks being in default of the provisions of the Act for which there are penalties not only if it fails to respond to FOI requests from the public but also by ignoring the interventions of the Commission to ensure compliance. He said refusal to comply would give the impression that the Ministry has something to hide and this would undermine its credibility and that of the government.
The RAIC boss also drew the attention of the Ministry to Part 3 Sections 12-26 of the RAI Act which provide for exempt information, that is classes of information such as national security, personal data, economic interest, third party information etc. which cannot be disclosed except where the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm in doing so. He however warned against ignoring FOI requests just because the public authority feels they fall among the exempt provisions, and rather advised engaging with the process by acknowledging and processing the requests, or reaching out to explain why the information cannot be released if it is available. He said it is important that the compliance rate is up since the country participates in an annual UNESCO survey monitoring progress on SDG 16.10.2 which relates to Public Access to InformatioThe permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mr. Andrew Laurence Sorie acknowledged the ministry’s inability to provide the requested information to the general public and strongly promised to work with his technical staff to improve on such lapses. He concluded by calling on the Commission to hold more technical meetings with the Ministry to assist them in completing their PDI Scheme and ACR template respectively, and to respond to FOI requests in a timely manner.
In his closing statement, the RAIC CIC Dr Shaw proposed a technical meeting between the RAIC Legal and Compliance Team and the Ministry involving the PS and other relevant officials to look at the details of the compliance issues involved with a view to resolving them.