In the first RTI suit by Lolan Sagoe-Moses, Kathleen Addy and others of the Citizen Ghana Movement to compel disclosure of information about the infamous 3.6 million bus branding saga, the Human Rights High Court set the amount to pay at ¢1,000. Our Lord Denning, Justice Anthony K. Yeboah upheld the right of citizens to information under Article 21(1)(f) of the Constitution in the absence of an RTI Act in April 2016.

In July 2020, the court presided over by the bold spirit Justice Gifty Agyei Addo upheld the right of Ashaiman MP Ernest Norgbey to information regarding how the EC procured services of consultants for its IT and biometric systems. She fixed a fee of ¢1,500.00, but the EC was unhappy about that judgment and filed an appeal, but the Court of Appeal didn’t waste time throwing it out.

On Thursday, June 18, 2021, she reduced to ¢1,500 the NCA’s demand for ¢2,000 for information sought by the Media Foundation for West Africa on the back of the closure of radio stations by the NCA.

In all these instances, the courts failed to do one thing – apply the demands of reasonableness or the law. If this were the intent of the law, there would not have been a need for it. The courts fix the fees without ascertaining the exact amount required to reproduce the information sought. In the EC case, the MP paid the ¢1,500 only to realise it was for information on only two sheets of paper.

The law requires that where fees must be paid, the amount must cover only the cost of reproducing the information sought. According to the law, efforts made or time spent generating the information must not be liable to a fee. The reason is simple, the effort or time is what the taxpayer already pays the public officer each month on the job.

In fact, the original idea, as reflected in the parliamentary debates, was for information requested to be supplied free of charge because the money used to generate the information is tax money and the public officers work for the people and must account to them. Section 75 commands that personal information, information in the public interest and information sought by persons with disability must be supplied free of charge.

Some public officers are beginning to make nonsense of the law. The Media Foundation that helped train public officers on the law and is now testing it (including through its online publication, The Fourth Estate) has again sought information from the Minerals Commission to assist the galamsey fight, and the Commission is demanding some ¢6,000.00 ($1,000) for information on each request about licenses it has issued, revoked and money made from annual monitoring fees for excavators. Like the NCA, the Commission’s CEO makes this absolutely absurd demand intended to deny a request to supply the information when Section 85 of the RTI Act (Act 989) prohibits reference to any other law in determining a request for information under the RTI law. How much is a pen drive, a CD or photocopy?

The Executive Secretary of the RTI Commission, Yaw Sarpong Boateng, has warned against charging fees other than an amount constituting the actual cost of reproduction of the information requested. He explains fees proposed by the Commission are for the token they ought to be and reflect international standard fees for RTI requests. Mr Sarpong, together with the Chairman, retired Justice K.A. Ofori-Atta on Thursday assured that the Finance Minister should soon forward the schedule of fees to Parliament to take away the discretion being exercised in the most absurd fashion to defeat the purpose of the law.

In the meantime, I will encourage the Media Foundation to continue to fight to achieve the principled purpose of the law for all.

The Commission has started work and attends to your appeals free of charge. It has announced it is receiving appeals by email to rticommission@rti.gov.gh or by post to P.O. Box YK 1179, Kanda-Accra.  

 That’s My Take. That’s your legal light.

Samson Lardy ANYENINI
June 19, 2021 – Issue #21