THE FOI Act 2011: OBJECTIVES
To make public records and information more freely available,;
To provide for public access to public records and information, protect public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the protection of personal privacy,
To protect serving public officers from adverse consequences for disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorization and establish procedures for the achievement of those purposes.
SCOPE – FOI Act applies to all PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS. A public institution is any Legislative, executive, judicial, administrative or advisory body of the Government, including boards, committees or commissions of the STATE which are supported in whole or in part by public fund or which expends public fund also includes –
Private bodies providing public services, performing public functions or utilising public funds.
Other objectives are to ensure that:
1) public institutions answer applications for information.
2) public institutions practise good records management to ensure that information can be quickly identified, shared and retrieved.
3) Access to any information that is in the custody or possession of any public institution is granted
4) Impediments or bureaucracy is not deployed to frustrate such requests
5) the right to take legal action in Courts to compel any public institution to comply with the Act is available.
EXEMPTIONS TO DISCLOSURE
All government or public institutions are required, subject to certain exemptions, to disclose information pursuant to a request by any person. The exemptions are listed below:
Section 11- Exemption of international affairs and defence.
Section 12- Exemption of law enforcement and investigation.
Section 14- Exemption of personal information.
Section 15- Exemption of third party information.
Section 16- Exemption of professional or other privileges conferred by law.
Section 17- Exemption of course or research material.
Section 19- Denial by a public institution to disclose records.
Exemptions and the public interest
First under the exemptions scheme of the FOI Act there must be some public interest element in the disclosure. This has been explained as carrying some benefit to the public as distinct from arousing public curiosity or amusement.
The second point is that there can be no room for generalizations. Every case has to be determined on the peculiar circumstances and the conflicting interests weighed. The issue requires delicate balancing of the public interest in favour of disclosure and the public interest against it.
Thirdly the competing interests to be considered are the public interest favouring disclosure against the public (rather than private) interest favouring the withholding of information.
REPORTING MECHANISMS UNDER FOIA
SECTION 29 REPORTS ON COMPLIANCE BY PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS
Additionally, section 29 of the Act requires the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation to publish these reports electronically and in print and submit copies to relevant committees of the National Assembly not later than April. See section 29(4). Also, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation is expected to compile a report on overall compliance with the Act for submission to the National Assembly on April 1 each year.
Section 29(3) also requires the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation to make each report, which has been submitted to him, available to the public in hard copies, online and also at a single electronic access point.
A public institution must submit a report even if a nil entry is recorded under all or any of the sub-paragraphs in paragraph 3.
REPORTING TO THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
Section 29(4) of the Act provides 'The Attorney General shall notify the Chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Government Reform Oversight of the House of Representatives and the Chairman and ranking minority member of the Committees on Government Affairs and the Judiciary of the Senate, not later than April of the year in which each such report is issued, of the existence of such report and make it available to them in hard copies as well as by electronic means.'
Section 29(7) of the Act provides 'The Attorney-General shall submit to the National Assembly an annual report on or before April 1 of each calendar year which shall include for the prior calendar year a listing of the number of cases arising under this Act, the exemption involved in each case, the disposition of such cases, and the cost, fees, and penalties assessed.' And such reports will include detailed description of the efforts taken by the Ministry of Justice to encourage all government or public institutions to comply with this Act.