Policy Alert has called on the Akwa Ibom State Government to improve its proactive disclosure of information and the quality of its responses to requests made by citizens under the Freedom of Information Act (2011) as a means of improving the ease of doing business in the state. The call was made, Friday, in Uyo, during a capacity building workshop on “Utilizing the FOI Act 2011 as a tool for Combating Public Sector Corruption at the Subnational Level”.
Speaking to the media at the end of the event, Executive Director of Policy Alert, Tijah Bolton-Akpan, said: “Access to publicly held information is an important plank of the ease of doing business. Current efforts by the state government to promote industrialization and foreign direct investment cannot succeed where private and corporate citizens cannot routinely access government records provided either proactively or on request for the making of business and other decisions.”
He added: “While the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011 remains an important piece of legislation aimed at empowering citizens and state actors to promote transparency and accountability in government, many public officials do not understand their obligations under the Act, are confused as to whether the Act applies to state government institutions, or remain lost as to how to its provisions could be reconciled with secrecy clauses as found in other extant laws and regulations such as the Official Secrets Act, Section 97 of the Criminal Code and the Civil Service Rules and Regulations amongst others.
“This training has helped to put to rest some of those confusions and apprehensions, first by reiterating that the law applies to state governments, and then by arming public officials with the knowledge of their obligations under the Act so they can utilize the law as an anti-corruption tool at the subnational level.”
Also speaking, Communication and Stakeholder Engagement Officer of Policy Alert, Utibe Archibong, announced that the training was part of the Strengthening Citizens Resistance against the Prevalence of Corruption (SCRAP-C) project, which Policy Alert is currently implementing in Akwa Ibom State, with support from Actionaid Nigeria.
She added: “In the months ahead, Policy Alert will be mobilizing, building capacity and facilitating a number of citizen-led efforts by communities, media and civil society in Akwa Ibom State to utilize state budgets and the FOI Act as tools for combating and changing attitudes around corruption. It is our view that such demand-side actions would be ineffective without filling some obvious capacity gaps on the supply side, hence this training.”
The SCRAP-C project is expected to change attitudes and build public demand towards anti-corruption through multiple approaches including the use of social marketing tools, research, advocacy, citizens’ mobilization, media engagements and capacity development. It is currently being implemented by Actionaid Nigeria through its partners in six states across Nigeria. Policy Alert is the implementing partner for SCRAP-C in Akwa Ibom State.