The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has urged the Right to Information (RTI) Commission to put in place measures to check “arbitrary” fees charged by public institutions for the release of information.
Mrs Abigail Larbi Odei, Programme Manager at MFWA, who made the call, said the charging of unauthorised and outrageous fees by some public institutions before giving out information requested using the RTI was impeding the right to information.
She said this while contributing to a panel discussion on the RTI Act, 2019, (Act 989) at a stakeholders’ conference in Accra.
The theme for the conference was: “Implementation of RTI Act 2019 (Act 989): Challenges, Solutions, Achievements and the Way Forward.”
Discussants at the meeting included Mr Yaw Sarpong Boateng, Executive Secretary, RTI Commission; Dr Patricia Adusei-Poku, Executive Director for Data Protection Commission; Dr Winifred Nafisa Mahama, the Director of the Access to Information Division of the Ministry of Information; Mr Oppon-Kusi, a board member, RTI Commission; Madam Gloria Hiadzi, a former Executive Secretary of the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association and Mrs Odei, Programme Manager for MFWA.
The conference formed part of this year’s RTI Commission Week Celebration.
The RTI Act, 2019, (Act 989) is a law that seeks to promote transparency and accountability by empowering the citizens to access information on central and local governments as well as non-governmental organisations, which are publicly funded.
The Act was passed by Parliament in March 2019 and assented to by the President in May 2019.
However, more than a year into its implementation, issues have been raised concerning the fees charged by some public institutions before requests are granted, with some people accusing the institutions of commercialising the law.
For instance, the National Communications Authority, in July 2020, asked the MFWA to pay GH¢2,000 for information on the closure of some radio stations across the country.
Similarly, in June 2021, the Minerals Commission demanded $1,000 from a media firm, The Fourth State, before releasing information on companies licenced to undertake mining in Ghana between January 2013 and May 2021, and companies whose licence had been revoked or suspended within the same period.
Such charges, Mrs Odei noted, were unwarranted and only served as an impediment to the right to information.
She commended the RTI Commission for ensuring the passage of the fees and charges act, which she said would help address the charging of arbitrary fees.
The Programme Manager, whose firm had filed the highest number of requests using the RTI, also bemoaned the bureaucratic systems within public institutions, adding that such situations delayed the time at which information could be accessed.
“We’ve had instances where heads of organisations will say, if you do not address the letter to me, I will not respond, so, one of the key challenges we see is the fact that there is still that bureaucracy within the system and information officers need clearance to even respond within the 14 days,” she said.
She also called for more training for information officers who were deployed to the institutions to enable them to effectively man the information units.
Mr Yaw Sarpong Boateng, Executive Secretary of the RTI Commission, urged the institutions to be mindful of their obligations under the RTI law, warning that the Commission would soon commence the prosecution of persons who failed to grant requests made under the law.
To deepen the implementation of the Act, the Commission is currently engaging with the Ministry of Information on a draft legislative instrument to enhance the operationalisation of the Act.
“In fact, there is a committee that is currently considering the draft of proposed regulations which should be ready for submission to the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice soon,” he said.
Dr Mahama, the Director of the Access to Information Division of the Ministry of Information, said the Ministry had in place a number of arrangements or checks to fast track the processes.