The Right to Information Commission has annulled the decision of the Scholarship Secretariat to deny The Fourth Estate access to the list of scholarship beneficiaries.
The Secretariat cited privacy and data protection issues for refusing The Fourth Estate access.
The Right to Information (RTI) Commission, communicated its ruling to the Scholarship Secretariat in a letter dated September 14, 2021.
The ruling stated that while some aspects of the information concerning scholarship beneficiaries were private and needed to be protected, not every piece of information about them must be kept confidential.
The RTI Commission explained that “the scholarship beneficiaries have enjoyed public funds and an individual like the Applicant [Kwaku Krobea Asante of The Fourth Estate] herein is entitled, legally, to ask for information regarding the use of such funds.”
The Commission, therefore, ordered the Scholarship Secretariat to release the information regarding the following details:
- Name of scholarship beneficiary
- Programme of study in respect of which that scholarship was awarded
- The institutions attended by the beneficiaries
- The region and district from where the scholarship beneficiary applied for the scholarship
- The bursary for each beneficiary.
“That certainly, should aid in doing a fair critique of the awards to ensure that there is a fair distribution of state funds earmarked for assisting students,” the RTI Commission’s ruling stated.
On March 23, 2021, The Fourth Estate’s Kwaku Krobea Asante made an application to the Scholarship Secretariat, requesting “the full list of beneficiaries and the amounts disbursed to them by the secretariat for the years 2019 and 2020”.
After 14 days, when the Secretariat did not respond to the application, The Fourth Estate made an internal appeal to the Registrar of the Secretariat as provided for by the RTI Law.
In a letter dated May 31, 2021, and signed by the Registrar of the Scholarship Secretariat, Kingsley Agyemang, the Secretariat acknowledged receipt of the internal appeal and indicated it had forwarded the application to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice for advice.
“The Secretariat will comply as soon as feedback is received from the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice,” the Secretariat added.
Despite the assurance, the Secretariat did not release the information after more than a month when the internal appeal was made.
On July 6, The Fourth Estate petitioned the RTI Commission to seek a review on the Secretariat’s decision to refuse access to the application. The RTI Commission wrote to the Scholarship Secretariat to justify why it denied The Fourth Estate the information.
The Scholarship Secretariat responded to the RTI Commission in a letter dated July 21. The Secretariat cited data protection issues under the Data Protection Act, 2012 (Act 843) on which it had sought advice from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. It, however, indicated the Secretariat’s availability to engage further on the issue.
The virtual tripartite settlement meeting
On August 17, the RTI Commission convened a tripartite settlement meeting on zoom that hosted the Applicant [Kwaku Krobea Asante], some management members of the Scholarship Secretariat, including the Registrar, Kingsley Agyemang, and the Executive Secretary of the RTI Commission, Yaw Sarpong Boateng, and the Commission’s lawyer.
At the meeting, the parties agreed that within 14 days the Secretariat would furnish Kwaku Krobea Asante with a statistical breakdown on the number of scholarship beneficiaries and amount disbursed in 2019 and 2020. It was also agreed that within 14 days the Secretariat would furnish the Commission with the full data on the scholarship beneficiaries, including the supposed private or confidential information, to guide the Commission in determining the matter.
“(b) Within 14 days from today 18th August 2021, effectively ending September 1, 2021, the Secretariat is to furnish the Commission with names of scholarship beneficiaries for 2019 and 2020 as well as the specific sums of money awarded and/or disbursed to each beneficiary
“(c)That upon receipt of the information referred to paragraph (b) above, shall vet same to determine whether it is information that ought to be released to be released to the Applicant without breaching either Act 989 or Data Protection Act, 2012 (Act 843),” a letter detailing the conclusions from the settlement meeting stated.
Final Decision on issue
Having vetted the full data from the Scholarship Secretariat, the RTI Commission in a determination on the matter, dated September 14, ordered the Secretariat to release the information to The Fourth Estate.
“The Respondent [Scholarship Secretariat] is to furnish the Applicant [Kwaku Krobea Asante of The Fourth Estate], in line with his request, the full list of scholarship beneficiaries and the amount disbursed to them. This was the specific request of the applicant,” the Commission’s ruling said.
The Commission, however, indicated that the bank details, identification numbers, student numbers, index numbers and phone numbers of the beneficiaries were not to be released.
The decision of the Commission concluded that the information to be released to the applicant “has to be furnished in a hard copy at a fee of GH₵ 1.80 per sheet or in PDF format, if possible and available in that format.”
It is the second time the commission has ordered a state institution to release information to The Fourth Estate.
In July 2021, the Commission dismissed the decision of the Minerals Commission to demand the cedi equivalent of US$ 1,000 as fees for information The Fourth Estate requested.
The RTI Commission reversed the decision in a landmark decision following an application for review filed by The Fourth Estate, a journalism project of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).
The Fourth Estate had indicated in its request letter to the Minerals Commission, Ghana’s mining regulator, that it preferred the information in a PDF format. It also provided an email address to the Minerals Commission through which the information could be sent.
The Minerals Commission demanded $1000 (GH₵6000) for the information although the RTI law says fees charged for RTI requests should cover only the cost and time for reproducing the information.
The Minerals Commission defended the decision and cited its governing laws to back the fee charged.
The mining regulator, in a writ filed at an Accra High Court on August 2, 2021, said the directive by the Right to Information Commission was “unconstitutional, arbitrary, unreasonable and flawed with procedural improprieties.”