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MRA inducts TETFund into FOI Hall of Shame

By News Express on 20/11/2017

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Media Rights Agenda on Monday inducted the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame for the institution’s failure to comply with its duties and obligations under the FOI Act, 2011 and its repeated refusal to honour numerous applications for information made to it under the Act by several organisations over the last six years.

Announcing TETFund’s selection as this week’s inductee into the FOI Hall of Shame, MRA’s Programme Officer, Mr. Idowu Adewale, explained that TETFund had exhibited an inexplicable disregard for the rights of citizens to seek and obtain information from public institutions while also demonstrating a near absolute contempt for the Law.

According to Mr Adewale, multiple requests made by various non-governmental organisations to TETFund were either completely ignored without even an acknowledgment, contrary to the provisions of the FOI Act, or where it responded at all, it refused to provide any of the requested information or, as it did on one occasion, provided only part of the information sought.

Describing its attitude as a complete breach of the institution’s obligations under the FOI Act, Mr. Adewale said: “In its short years of existence, TETFund has consistently exhibited an inexcusable intolerance for the rights of citizens and civic groups to hold public institutions accountable in accordance with the FOI Act while at the same time betraying an unmistakable disdain for the duties imposed on it by Law.”

TETFund was established by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (Establishment, etc) Act of 2011 as an intervention agency charged with managing, disbursing and monitoring the education tax to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria. To enable TETFund achieve these objectives, the TETFund Act, 2011 imposed a two percent Education Tax on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria.

The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is empowered by the TETFund Act to assess and collect the Education Tax while TETFund administers the tax and disburses various amounts to tertiary educational institutions at Federal and State levels. It also monitors the projects executed with the funds allocated to the beneficiary institutions.

The mandate of the Fund, as provided in Section 7(1)(a) to (e) of the TETFund Act, is to administer and disburse the amount in the Fund to Federal and State tertiary educational institutions and ensure that funds generated from education tax are utilised to improve the quality of education in Nigeria without direct contract awarding.

Mr. Adewale noted that “TETFund is uniquely positioned to have begun operations on the right footing, having been established the same year the FOI Act was passed. The institution, unlike many other public institutions, had the opportunity to kick off its operations by implementing the FOI Act which would have gone a long way to ensure transparency and accessibility to citizens as well as the proper keeping and management of its records. Instead, TETFund which ought to have submitted six annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act since it was passed into law in 2011, has not submitted a single report.”

He said as a result of the failure of the body to submit its annual implementation reports over the last six years, vital statistical information which the reports are supposed to provide to the public, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant committees of the National Assembly are not available, including information which would have shown how many requests for information the institution has received annually since 2011, how many of these it has processed and granted and how many of the requests it denied each year, among others.

Mr. Adewale said, however, that information obtained from various organisations that have submitted FOI requests to TETFund reveal its poor level of responsiveness to such requests.

For instance, BudgIT, a civic organisation based in Lagos, wrote to TETFund in January 2017 pursuant to the FOI Act, seeking information on TETFund’s total cash inflow for 2014 and 2015 as well as a list of its 2014/2015 reconciled projects and the location of each of those projects, but received no response.

BudgIT sent TETFund a reminder to the request in February 2017 but the institution again not respond. BudgIT sent another reminder to TETFund on September 25, 2017 and yet another on November 15, 2017 but still did not receive any response from the institution.

The findings of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) in its 2017 FOI ranking of 166 public institutions based on an assessment of the levels of public access to procurement related records and information, such as information on procurement plans, procurement processes and capital expenditure, which was released on September 28, 2017, put TETFund amongst the worst performing set of institutions. TETFund did not respond to PPDC’s January 27, 2017 request for information and has not proactively published any of the procurement records and information that it is required by Law to publish proactively, despite having an active website.

Mr. Adewale pointed out that TETFund has not fulfilled its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the FOI Act as it has not published either on its website or anywhere else, the 16 categories of information that the FOI Act requires all public institutions to proactively publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.

According to information available from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), TETFund’s Accountant as well as two other individuals and two companies were charged before a Gombe State High Court in May, 2017, accused of various fraudulent and corrupt practices.

The trio of Auwal Ibrahim, principal accountant of TETFund in Abuja; Wali Muktar Usman, the Director of Works at the Federal College of Education in Gombe, as well as Architect Yunusa Yakubu and his companies, Lubell Nigeria Limited and Archfirst Nigeria limited, were arraigned before Justice Sa’ad Muhammad on a 17 count charge of conspiracy, contract scam, abuse of office and diversion of public funds. The accused persons were alleged to have abused their positions by awarding inflated TETFund contracts to companies in which they had interest or which belong to their cronies.  They were also accused of receiving gratification from contractors.

Mr. Adewale said it was not surprising that the institution’s staff was facing such charges, given the obvious lack of transparency in its operations, adding: “as an institution which collects, manages, monitors and disburses public funds, TETFund should understand the importance of accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility. TETFund should therefore make the required effort to provide the public with information on its activities and operations, especially as it is obliged by law to do so, and in the face of the possibility of the involvement of its staff in such nefarious activities.”

According to Mr. Adewale, “TETFund ought to disclose information on the monies it receives from FIRS and other sources, its disbursements as well as its operations in line with its proactive disclosure obligations. It is unacceptable that the institution is refusing to disclose information, including part of other organization’s profits that it collects, manages and disburses, even when such information has been specifically requested, when the information ought to have been proactively published in the first instance without the need for anyone to make a formal request for it.”

MRA endorsed BudgIT’s observation that TETFund “keeps allocating public funds to public tertiary institutions without publishing how the money was spent to the public” and echoed BudgIT question: “How transparent is TETFund when they don't publish reports of how money was spent since 2013?”

Another organization, the Human Rights Agenda Network (HRAN), which has also made an FOI request to TETFund, recently reported that the institution finally responded to it by a letter dated November 9, 2017 but which was served on the Network on Tuesday, November 15, 2017, after it had sent a reminder to TETFund in an effort to ensure that the institution was given ample opportunity to forestall legal action against it.

In response to HRAN’s request for information, TETFund disclosed its financial statements in respect of the Administration Fund Account and Project Fund Account for the years 2011 to 2014, but claimed that although its audited annual statements for 2015 and 2016 were ready, there was no existing Board of Trustees to sign and approve them.

This puts the institution’s responsiveness at best as partial. Although some of the information sought were provided, the response was far from satisfactory as TETFund failed to provide HRAN with a comprehensive list of beneficiaries of the Fund from 2011 till date, as requested by the network.

Mr. Adewale said: “This situation portrays a high level of sloppiness in the record keeping and management of TETFund and indeed a violation of Section 2(1) and (2) of the Act, which requires TETFund, as a public institution, to ensure that it records and keeps information about all its activities, operations and businesses and to similarly ensure the proper organisation and maintenance of all information in its custody in a manner that facilitates public access to such information.”

MRA also accused TETFund of disregarding other aspects of the FOI Act including Section 2(3)(f), which mandates every public institution to publish the title and address of an appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent; and Section 13 of the Act which requires the institution to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act.

MRA stressed that TETFund’s persistent denial of requests for information was inconsistent with its role as a body which deals with public funds at such a high level. It therefore called on the institution to take necessary steps to change its negative culture and to comply with the provisions of the Act.

MRA launched the “FOI Hall of Shame” on July 3 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.

Source News Express

Posted 20/11/2017 4:19:18 PM

 

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