The government is developing a standardised fee system for all public institutions to charge people seeking access to information under the Right to Information (RTI) Law, the Ministerof Information, Mr Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, has announced.
According to him, the absence of a unified fee system was one of the challenges facing the implementation of the RTI Law, for which reason the government was working on a proposal which would soon be laid before Parliament for consideration.
“I am aware of one review application that has been occasioned by disagreement over fees and charges. A proposal on the fees and charges has been submitted to the Ministry of Finance and will soon be presented to Parliament,” he said.
Mr Oppong Nkrumah announced this at Ghana’s commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to information (IDUAI) in Accra yesterday.
Universal Access to Information Day
The event was organised by the RTI Commission, the statutory body mandated to safeguard the right to information, as enshrined in Article 21(1)(f) of the 1992 Constitution and operationalised by the RTI Act, 2019 (Act 989).
September 28 was instituted as the IDUAI by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2019 to create awareness of the significance of access to information.
Ghana’s commemoration was on the theme: “Right to Information Act, 2019 (Act 989): A tool to ensure transparency, good governance, sustainable development in leveraging international cooperation”.
Controversy over fees
Act 989, which was passed in 2019 and came into force in 2020, helps people have access to information from public institutions.
Currently, there is no standardised fee system, which means public institutions use their discretion to peg their fees. This can, however, be reviewed by the RTI Commission.
In July this year, the Minerals Commission charged the Fourth Estate, an online news portal, GH¢6,000 as fees for access to information.
The Fourth Estate had asked the mining regulator for a list of companies licensed to undertake mining in the country between January 2013 and May 2021, and companies whose licences were revoked or suspended within that same period and the accompanying reasons.
Following a petition by the Fourth Estate, the RTI Commission annulled the fees and ordered the Minerals Commission to charge the news portal GH¢2.
“The commission directs the Chief Executive Officer of the Minerals Commission, Mr Martin K. Ayisi, to ensure the application of a charge or fee of either GH¢1.80 multiplied by the number of pages of information to be printed or GH¢1.90 if the information in its entirety is to be e-mailed to the applicant in PDF format,” the commission ruled.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the Minerals Commission dragged the RTI Commission to the Accra High Court seeking an order to quash the ruling.
Another controversy regarding the fees was the case of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament for Ashaiman, Mr Ernest Norgbey, who sued the Electoral Commission (EC) in July last year over the EC’s failure to grant him access to information on certain procurements in connection with the biometric voter management system (BVMS).
The EC argued that inasmuch as it recognised the MP’s right to the information under the Constitution and Act 989, it could not honour the said request because Parliament was yet to fix the fees one had to pay in order to request for information under Act 989.
The Accra High Court, presided over by Justice Gifty Agyei Addo, upheld the MP’s case and ordered the EC to release the information to him at a cost of GH¢1,500.
Implementing RTI Law
Aside from the move to get a standardised fee set, Mr Oppong Nkrumah also indicated that his outfit had put in place numerous programmes for the effective implementation of the RTI Law.
He said currently, the Ministry of Information had trained 1,055 officers to help public institutions discharge their mandate of providing information forthe public under the RTI Law.
“These officers include 478 designated information officers, 478 record officers and 99 newly recruited information officers,” he said.
He said the passage of the RTI Law, coupled with the training and other efforts, was part of significant steps by the government to “promote accountability, transparency and good governance”.
The Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), Mr Yaw Boadu Ayeboafoh, advised people to take a keen interest in the RTI Law to enable them to exercise their constitutional right to information.
According to him, the RTI was a right afforded to all persons, and that making use of it would help people resolve a myriad of problems.
“Your child is qualified, but has not been admitted to a public senior high school because the authorities say he/she had a certain score. How true is that record? Under the RTI Law, you can challenge the GES to produce the examination marks,” he explained.
Access to information
The Executive Secretary of the RTI Commission, Mr Yaw Sarpong Boateng, said the RTI was a cardinal principle of democracy, transparency and accountability.
He said the world was now embracing access to information, with governments making access to information the norm, as opposed to secrecy.
The commission, he said, was poised and ready to assist people to actualise their right to information.
He said so far the commission had, since its formation in October last year, received 16 complaints and determined nine of them.
“The commission launched its offices on Monday, September 27, and processes are underway to get the financial clearance and recruit the required staff,” he said.
The RTI Act was passed in 2019 to operationalise Article 21 (1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution, which stipulates that “all persons shall have the right to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society”.
The law gives people the right to access all sorts of information, apart from exempt information.
Per the law, exempt information includes information on the President or the Vice-President, information relating to the Cabinet, law enforcement and public safety, international relations, the economy or any other interest.
Other exempt information includes internal workings of public institutions, privileged information and personal information.
Per the RTI Act, the RTI Commission has the mandate to promote, monitor, protect and enforce the right to information granted the people under Article 21 (1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution.
People denied access to information or who are dissatisfied with the process to access information can file complaints with the commission, and the it has the power to make a determination on the complaints.
The law also states that any party aggrieved by the decision of the commission has the right to file an application at the High Ccourt.
By Joseph Nana Yaw Cobbina