RTI Commission orders Scholarship Secretariat to release beneficiaries list

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.

Scholarship Secretariat to interview 75,000 applicants in Ghana - GhanatodayOnline.com
Kingsley Agyemang, registrar of the Scholarship Secretariat, and some management members of the Secretariat participated in the settlement meeting | Source: The Presidency

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.

Precedent 

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 Minerals Commission has since sued the Right To Information Commission at the High Court to challenge the ruling.

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.”

18 COMMENTS

  1. As a student journalist, I think what the fourth estate is doing is very good. Gone are the days were we find it difficult to access information from public sectors.

    I wish to be part of your team so that I can learn more.

    Thank you

  2. What are they scared of? That it will reveal how the very poor are shut out of benefiting at the expense of the ruling class?

  3. Please I want to make Mr Azure aware that still scholarship secretariat has still not released the payment of fess for some school am a student of Dunkwa NMTC

  4. It’s so pathetic. After going through the aptitude test and interview, we don’t get any feedback as in whether you have been selected or rejected. Everything remains silent..

  5. Although RTI is executing a very marvelous work. It is not all information that’s should be publicly known. The secretariat will in due course pay hid to their request

  6. The Secretariat could sponsor someone to read Bsc. Accounting and Finance overseas whiles Msc. Sustainable Electrical Power is denied sponsorship. Bsc. Accounting and finance is being done in our schools and the Secretariat could have paid for the course to be done locally. I mean UPSA is one of the best Universities. It was later i realized that the beneficiary is connected to a high profile member of the ruling New Patriotic Party. And they’re so smart, they bring high profile people to conduct the interview making it looks like the award is going to be done on a fair grounds. It’s very sad.

  7. The passage of the Right To information bill by the Nana Addo government is one of the few things I publicly commended the government on. But the attitude of the state institution under this same government in granting access to information to applicants, makes me feel that I rushed in commending the President for passing the bill into law almost 3 year today.

  8. Thanks Sir, my grant for the past year has still not been paid, it looks like there’s no transparency at the Secretariat, kindly follow up for those of us they have not given our grants.

  9. Great work.
    I would like to know how many students from each district are supposed to be picked as beneficiaries of the scholarship.

    And what are the criterions for becoming a beneficiary of this scholarship?

  10. This is a very good call from the fourth estate. I entreat you people to dig and unravel any actions that are inimical to the state. Can you please extend it to fully funded scholarships by foreign countries but the scholarship secretariat acts as the nominating agency. I was a victim to their unfair treatment regarding them acting as a nominating agency to the Government of Hungary scholarship. They just asked me only four questions which only lasted for like 5 to 10 minutes. The questions included; what is economic analysis, who is the majority leader in parliament, who is the minority leader in parliament, who is the prime minister of Hungary, Base on this they decide whether to nominate you or not. Their decision is final.
    You people are really doing a good service to the motherland and I applaud you people for that. Keep it up

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