The Coalition on the Right to Information (RTI), Ghana (RTI Coalition) has expressed disappointment in responses received by institutions and individuals seeking information from some public institutions under the RTI Act.
It said while some public institutions were denying access, citing excuses such as the non-existence of basic structures to aid the release of information; many other public institutions were completely ignoring requests made to them for information including some very basic public information.
A statement issued in Accra by the Coalition said the developments were very worrying.
It said a recent example of such a worrying trend was the demand by the National Communication Authority (NCA) to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) to pay the “unreasonable/outrageous” fee of GHC 2,000.00 to access some public information, which was supposed to be proactively disclosed by the NCA without prompting per provisions of the RTI Act.
The coalition said it was equally troubling when the Electoral Commission (EC) allegedly turned down a request by a Member of Parliament (MP) for information on the acquisition of the Commission’s Biometric Voter Management System (BVMS).
It said the Commission’s alleged explanation that it could not honour the said request because Parliament was yet to fix the fees, so one had to pay to request for information under the RTI Act was disturbing.
“It took the High Court to order the Electoral Commission to provide the information requested for, but at quite an exorbitant fee of GHC 1,500.00,” it added.
The statement said exercising a fundamental human right such as the Right to Information should not be costly; otherwise, it was no more a right.
It said it was important for public institutions to bear in mind that, public information was already paid for by taxpayers, and therefore charging requesters to search for public information was tantamount to double charging.
The statement said that was why section 23(3) (d) of the RTI Act provided that “Where the Information Officer decides to give access; the notice shall state the prescribed fee for the reproduction of information”.
It said the Act went ahead to provide under section 75(2) (c) that “Despite subsection (1), a fee or charge shall not be payable for the reproduction of information which was in the public interest”.
The statement said it was implied by the text of Section 75 (2), (3), (4) and (5) that the fees to be charged were the reasonable costs of reproduction of the information requested for and not the time spent in reviewing the request or preparing/searching for the information.
“All public institutions, without exception, were to comply with the provisions of the RTI law, including the provisions in respect of fees,” it said.
The statement said the RTI Coalition had noted with interest, the public declaration by the supervisory Ministry of the Act, the Ministry of Information to investigate the NCA’s response to the MFWA.
It said, “we will, however, want to emphasize that these kinds of responses from public institutions such as the NCA, only send wrong signals to the public and suggest that the RTI Act is rather making it more difficult to obtain information instead of facilitating easy access to information, hence discouraging its use.”
It said the RTI Coalition condemned the developments and called on Government to take immediate practical steps to prevent such acts from happening again.
The statement said the present situation directly contradicted the Ministry of Information’s assertion that it had equipped public institutions with training on the importance and application of the RTI Act.
It said additionally, the actions/inactions by public institutions emphasized the need for the Government to work with stakeholders including the Coalition to implement the revised RTI implementation roadmap to facilitate the effective implementation of the RTI Act to curb corruption and promote good governance in the country’s burgeoning democracy.