Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has said that attempts to limit disclosure of information of public interest would weaken the government’s commitment to transparency and accountability.
This was in response to the letter by Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, SAN, that the names of contractors that collected public funds meant for electricity projects could not be found in the Ministry records
Fashola said, “We have searched the Ministry’s record and the information you applied for is not held by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (Power Sector).”
The letter signed on Fashola’s behalf by Mrs Shoetan A. A, Director (Legal Services) read in part: “I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 4th January 2019 in which you applied for request to disclose details of alleged corrupt contractors and companies that collected money for electricity projects but failed to execute any projects. The request has been handled under the FOI Act.”
Fashola’s response followed SERAP’s suit number FHC/L/CS/105/19 filed last month at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos.
The suit is seeking “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling Fashola to provide specific details on the names and whereabouts of the contractors who collected public funds meant for electricity projects but disappeared with the money without executing any projects.”
SERAP in its last letter, dated February 8, 2019, and signed by its Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The public expectation is that government information when in the hands of any public institutions and agencies, should be available to the public, as prescribed by the FOI Act. The FOI Act should always be used as an authority for disclosing information rather than withholding it.”
The letter also said a case has been filed for the Ministry to release the information and urged them to go to any length to acquire the necessary information.
“Although, we have filed a case in court for remedial action and seeking an order to compel you and your Ministry to release the information requested, we urge you to take proactive steps to obtain the information from any other public institution or agency that may be holding the requested information, and to send to us the information without further delay. Your Ministry should not wait until the court makes it decision to compel you to disclose the requested information.
“Proactively releasing the information to SERAP and publishing it widely will strengthen the proper implementation of the FOI Act, promote accessibility and openness in government as well as show that the government will not shield the affected contractors and companies from accountability.”