Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today named as this week’s inductee into its “Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame” the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), an agency established by the Federal Government to provide easy access to healthcare for all Nigerians through various prepayment systems and to regulate private health insurance.
MRA said in a statement in Lagos announcing the NHIS as the 19th inductee into the FOI Hall of Shame that the agency had apparently chosen to take a back seat in the implementation of the FOI Act and had accordingly failed to comply with most of its duties and obligations under the Act, resulting in a shield of secrecy over many aspects of its operations.
Established by the National Health Insurance Scheme Act 35 of 1999, the objectives of the scheme, according to its enabling law, include “ensuring access to good health care services to every Nigerian and protecting Nigerian families from financial hardship of huge medical bills; and for matters connected therewith.”
According to Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA’s Programme Director, “It goes without saying that an agency charged with providing critical public services to citizens should be open and transparent by default so that those it is intended to serve will know what services it provides, how they can access those services, the costs at which the services are provided and other such information. It is therefore totally unacceptable for such an agency to defy the express provisions of a Law requiring it to be open and transparent.”
Mr. Longe noted that from information available to MRA, for over six years that the FOI Act has been in force, the NHIS has not complied with its obligation under the Law to proactively publish 16 categories of information that it is required to publish under Section 2(3) and (4) of the Act.
Specifically, he said, there is no indication whatsoever that the agency has designated an officer to whom requests to the agency for information should be sent and it has not proactively published the title and address of the officer, as required by the FOI Act and the Implementation Guidelines for the Act issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation, as the information is not even available on its website.
Mr. Longe also pointed out the agency’s failure to comply with its obligation under Section 29 of the Act, which mandates NHIS like all other public institutions covered by the Act, to submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation, on or before February 1 of each year, a report covering the preceding fiscal year of its implementation of the Act.
He noted that all the six annual reports on the implementation of the Act collated and released by the Attorney General of the Federation since 2011 show that the NHIS has not submitted any report for any of the six years.
Besides, Mr. Longe said, information available to MRA showed that the NHIS had not responded to any request for information made to it by civil society organizations, including Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Social Economic Research and Development Centre (SERDEC).
For Instance, the NHIS failed to respond to a request made to it by SERDEC on September 19, 2014, in which the civil society organization asked for information concerning procurements records and information on the acquisition of land for the construction of NHIS corporate headquarters with budget code: NPHCDA005009055.
In addition, the NHIS failed to respond to an information request to it made by PPDC, dated January 27, 2014, in which PPDC applied under the FOI Act for information relating to the agency’s procurement plans for the year 2014.
Observing that these are information which are not sensitive or difficult to collate and should arguably have been proactively published both under the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and Section 2 of the FOI Act, Mr. Longe said the only logical explanation for the agency’s refusal to respond to the requests and provide the information requested is its resolve not to obey the Law.
He also accused the NHIS of failing to comply with Section 13 of the FOI Act which requires all public institutions to train their officials on the public’s right of access to information and to equip relevant officials with the skills to ensure the effective implementation of the Act.
MRA called on the NHIS to retrace its steps by taking immediate action to comply with the provisions of the FOI Act.
MRA also urged the Attorney-General of the Federation to explore administrative measures to ensure that that the NHIS and other public institutions to which the FOI Act applies take their duties and obligations under the Act seriously and respect the rights of Nigerians to public information, which is also a fundamental right of citizens of all countries, established under international law.
Launched on July 3, 2017, the FOI Hall of Shame focuses attention on public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.