The Fourth Estate had requested information, but the request was ignored. The Right to Information (RTI) Commission wanted an explanation from the Health Facilities Regulatory Agency (HeFRA) on why it refused to grant the information.
But the health regulator, again, did not respond.
For its intransigence, the RTI Commission has penalised HeFRA with a GH₵30,000 fine. The institution mandated to license health facilities in the country will have to cough out the amount within 14 days.
This isn’t the Commission’s first punitive measure against a state institution for failing to release information to an applicant and cold-shouldering the commission. For committing a mirror-image of HeFRA’s offence, the commission recently slapped the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) with a GH₵50,000 penalty.
Should HeFRA default in the payment of the penalty, it faces an additional 10% penalty on the principal every14 days.
In a ruling dated January 5, 2022, the RTI Commission also ordered the Registrar of HeFRA, Dr Philip Bannor, to ensure that the information was released to The Fourth Estate within 14 days.
On March 29, 2021, The Fourth Estate’s Kwaku Krobea Asante wrote to HeFRA requesting the following information:
- The date Frontiers Healthcare Services Limited applied for the HeFRA license and the date the licence was issued to the company to undertake COVID-19 tests at the airport.
- The license status of some listed health facilities in Accra and Kumasi as of March 2021.
HeFRA did not respond.
Per Section 23 (1)-(2) of the RTI law, HeFRA had 14 days to determine whether it had the information or not.
“Where an application for access is received by a public institution, the Information Officer shall take a decision on the application and send a written notice to the applicant within fourteen days from the date of receipt of the application.
“The notice shall state (a) whether or not access the information will be given, and (b) whether access to only a part of the information can be given and the reason for giving only a part.”
Since HeFRA’s information officer failed to fulfil his or her obligation, Mr. Asante took the next step in the RTI law which is stipulated in Section 23(5):
“Where the information officer fails to determine an application within fourteen days after the application is received by public institutions, the applicant is deemed to have been refused and the applicant has the right to seek redress under Section 31 to 39.”
That redress required Mr. Asante to petition the Registrar, who is the head of the institution, for an internal review of the decision not to release the information.
He did that on May 27, 2021. The Registrar had 15 days to communicate his decision to the applicant.
But again, HeFRA did not bother to respond as required by Section 33(1) of the RTI law.
Left with no options. Mr. Asante petitioned the RTI Commission on July 8, 2021, in compliance with Section 65(1) of the law which states:
“A person who is not satisfied with a decision of a public institution or relevant private body may apply to the commission for a review of the decision.”
In the ruling signed by its Executive Director, Yaw Sarpong Boateng, the RTI Commission had no kind words for HeFRA.
“The Commission deplores the posture of the Respondent [HeFRA] in the instant case and hereby makes it clear under Act 989 [RTI law], there is no public institution that is exempt from being called upon to disclose or release information; it is certain categories of information that are exempted exempt from disclosure.
It insisted there was no blanket exemption for any state institution.
“Even with those categories of information, the exemption may not be absolute, where it in the interest of the public or the Harm’s test prevails,” the Executive Director explained.
In backing The Fourth Estate’s request, the commission said it did not find the information sought, which HeFRA denied, as “falling into the range of exempt information under Act 989.”
The commission maintained that it was clothed with the power to “make any determination as the Commission considers just and equitable, including issuing recommendations or penalties in matters before the Commission.”
When Parliament passed the RTI law in 2019, its main advocates—the media, civil society groups and anti-corruption campaigners—touted it as a potent weapon in the fight against corruption. They said it would increase transparency in the government, ensure proactive disclosure of information and set rules for requests and responses.
The passage and assenting of the RTI law (Right to Information Act, 2019, Act 989) drew commendations from many local and international stakeholders and civil society organisations.
The law, which took effect on January 2, 2020, is expected to make it easier for the public to request and receive information from public institutions in Ghana.
But it is beginning to dawn on civil society and the media that the celebrations were premature because The Fourth Estate has established that very few institutions are willing to comply with the law and release information.
Meanwhile, HeFRA has released the information requested to The Fourth Estate but is yet to pay the fine.
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