I have been very disappointed at the conduct of the Electoral Commission and its lawyers in treating that RTI request for information by a citizen (one who also is a representative of citizens in parliament). I have condemned it. It is shameful as it is insulting. It is such a missed opportunity for an independent constitutional body that thrives on positive brand image and goodwill. The conduct detracts from the letter and spirit of the Constitution, the RTI Act and good governance.  It is disturbing how public officers often forget it is same citizen’s tax that gives them a job, and the information they deny the citizen is generated for and on behalf of citizens with their tax money? I doubt citizens will tolerate this for always. The very first article of the Constitution reads: “The Sovereignty of Ghana resides in the people of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised…”

It is public knowledge that I am a member of the RTI campaign. I don’t only know the law, I made inputs and policed and literally forced its passage. The EC and its lawyers got this so wrong, and must have something to hide. You are spending 72m dollars of citizens’ tax on just one project and you have this aversion to openness? Charlotte Osei and her colleagues were removed on charges of breaches of procurement procedures, even though removal from office is not one of the procurement law’s prescriptions for that near-default act for which almost all public office holders shall lose their jobs if put through the same process they were subjected to.

I have given the education that you don’t need a lawyer to request information under the RTI law. In fact, all you have to do if you cannot read or write, is to walk to the public institution you seek information from, you make an oral application, the information officer there will put your request into writing, get an independent witness to read it back to you for your approval and signature or thumbprint, he shall make copies and hand one to you, you leave to await being contacted within 14 days generally and within 2 days if the information you seek is about the safety or liberty of a person.

In January, Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah boldly announced that hundreds of these information officers had been trained and are ready to serve you if you made a request last month. Section 19 makes it mandatory for a public servant information officer to receive and deal with your request, not a hired private lawyer or law firm. If you are aggrieved by the decision of this officer, you appeal by way of what the law calls internal review to the head of that institution, and s/he has 15 days within which to make a decision. The RTI Commission, not set up yet, may also come in to resolve the issue and may order the institution to give you access to the information you seek. The court is the last resort. In fact, the law was passed to give effect to article 21 (1)(f) of the Constitution to avoid citizens having to expend money on lawyers and in court to obtain information not exempt from disclosure and which is generated with their tax money. The implementation of the law was postponed for a whole year for these structures to be put in place, right? Kojo, what happened, where are they, why are private law firms unlawfully usurping the roles of information officers, and at what additional cost to the tax payer?

The lame and wrong excuse that parliament has not yet determined fees and charges for reproduction of information sought, flies in the face of Section 75(2) which provides almost a dozen circumstances where the information must be supplied free of charge – it is not exactly free because citizens have already paid for these with their taxes. In fact, this includes “reproduction of information which is in the public interest”. But aside that, Section 28 of Act 989 prescribes as a first mode of giving access to give one “reasonable opportunity to INSPECT the information”. This, obviously, does not need parliament determining any fees and charges. That lame excuse used to deny Ernest Norgbey, MP for Ashaiman, what should be harmless procurement information in the public interest is most bizarre.

By the law, reproduction of information requested may be given to you in various forms – “electronic, magnetic, optical, computer print-out, various computer devices and web portals”. So it could simply be by asking you to bring along a pendrive, a CD, etc for the information. If one insists that what you seek is the kind you must pay for photocopies (reproduction, translation, transcription), how difficult is it for them to discuss and agree that with you? We can be so dumb that the cost of photocopy must require parliamentary intervention to determine even where there has not been an attempt to first discuss the cost of photocopy with the one seeking the information?

Public institutions must do proactive disclosure of information and not wait to be reactive. Let Government demonstrate it is truly committed to implementing the RTI Act by:

  1. Getting parliament do this one-minute job, pass this one-line or one-sentence fees and charges for this Act,
  2. Setting up the implementing body – the independent RTI Commission now!
  3. But right away, it must issue a statement to discourage this conduct which has the potential of a bad precedent.

I await how Kwame A-Plus’s request for information on the procurement of ambulances will be treated. Please don’t tell anyone to go to court because the law is intended for you in public office to exercise common sense and do right by citizens, and not to waste that citizen’s tax money to hire lawyers to fight them in court over information generated with their money that, by the law, is not exempt from disclosure.

Samson Lardy ANYENINI

February 22, 2020