Transparency, Accountability, Open Government And The Fight Against Corruption, By Celestine Okeke
This is not intended to be a reader’s delight rather an attempt to chronicle our experiences applying for information from government agencies using the Freedom of Information (FOI) ACT 2011. We intend to provide weekly updates until all our FOI requests are attended to.
MSME-ASI has within the last two years undertaken a project to understand why despite government budgeting and releasing several billions to its agencies for interventions in job creation and economic development not much seems to have happened. In doing the above, we have applied for information that ordinarily should be in the public space and sadly, despite the much acclaimed fight against corruption and the Federal governments signing up to the open government partnership, FOI requests are still been treated as a no issue.
FEDERAL INLAND REVENUE SERVICE (FIRS)
MSME-ASI is of the belief that governments’ ability to create jobs and provide infrastructure that will improve the ecosystem under which private enterprises will thrive is largely dependent on its ability to earn revenue commensurate to its need and in this regard, we have a more than casual interest in what FIRS does with the revenue it collects on behalf of government.
We wrote FIRS first on the 26th October, 2016 asking for the following information;
Details of all new offices built, leased or rented by it between 2011-June 2016.
Cost of set up of each of the offices, the cost should include cost of property acquisition or rental/lease, cost of furnishing and every other cost incurred in setting up the offices.
Indicate via detailed breakdown, volume and value of all taxes collected in each of the new offices since their set up.
Detailed breakdown of the total number of times the board of FIRS has met between 2011-June 2016 and the total cost incurred for hosting all the meetings.
The request was made with a view to understanding how FIRS manages the revenue it collects on behalf of government and to identify leakages within the service and sadly, we got no official response from the service in clear contravention of the provisions of the FOI ACT. A reminder was sent to the service on 13th April, 2017 and we intend to commence legal action should FIRS decline the request.
ABUJA ENVIROMENTAL PROTECTION BOARD (AEPB)
The inability of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to manage street trading/hawking within the city centre led to its mandating AEPB to enforce its ban on street trading/hawking and years after, street trading is obviously not abating and enforcement activities still on-going.
We wrote the agency on 4thJuly, 2016 asking for the following information;
Breakdown of funds allocated for the enforcement activities from date of its inception till January 2016.
Breakdown of total funds spent on the enforcement activities from inception till January 2016. The breakdown should include cost of legal services for cases pending in or concluded in the law courts.
Breakdown on number of street traders/ hawkers arrested since the inception of the enforcement activities till January 2016.
Breakdown of total number of cases instituted against the arrested hawkers/ street traders, courts where they are/ were arraigned and total conviction obtained till date.
The agency has refused to release any official information rather, it has asked for a couple of meetings which we declined having not gotten the information we requested for at the first meeting. We have written a reminder to the agency on 3rd August, 2016 asking for same information and will pursue legal actions should the request be declined again.
FIRS have continued to build/buy/lease new offices all over Nigeria in an age and time where revenue collection is done via improved techniques. We believe there is more to the surge in building new offices other than improving its ability to collect taxes as there is no evidence that having new offices will improve on its ability to collect more taxes.
AEPB has over four hundred (400) enforcement officers and a couple of military/ para-military officers on the enforcement team and spends undisclosed amounts of money on the ban on street trading/ hawking but rather than have street trading/ hawking abate, the opposite seems to be.
It is becoming common knowledge that several enforcement teams now collude with street traders/ hawkers to evade arrest or unofficially “bail” themselves upon arrest and year in year out, FCTA continues to vote hundreds of million on enforcement activities.
We call on both agencies of government to support the fight against corruption, respect the provisions of the FOI ACT 2011 and provide the sought information.
Lead Partner, MSME-ASI