The Fourth Estate has dragged Ghana’s presidency to the Right to Information (RTI) Commission for its failure to provide information the publication requested using the RTI law.
The Editor-In-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni, had written to the presidency for information on contracts awarded to Zoomlion Ghana Limited to fumigate and disinfect schools in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The right to information request to the presidency on December 6, 2021, was to, among others, know the justification, cost, scope of work and other related information on the COVID-19 fumigation/disinfection carried out in schools across the country.
The information officer at the presidency failed to respond within the stipulated period of 14 days.
Manasseh Azure Awuni then appealed to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the head of the institution, for an internal review in accordance with section 31 of the Act, 2019, (Act 989).
The president failed to respond to the appeal.
President Akufo-Addo and his administration have often cited the passage of the RTI law as one of the successes of the government in the areas of transparency and the fight against corruption.
Fifty-six (56) days after the passage of the law, on May 21, 2020, President Akufo-Addo assented to it within 24 hours of receiving it. The assent was broadcast on national television.
“I am very happy that this law has finally been passed, and I did make the commitment that, when it was brought to me, I would give my assent to it right away. It was, in fact, brought to me yesterday afternoon,” the President said.
“But, on second thought, I felt that I should sign it in the plain view of the Ghanaian people, for you to know that this long, winding parliamentary process has finally come to an end,” he added.
Even though many state agencies have failed to respond to The Fourth Estate‘s request for information using the RTI law, this is the first time The Fourth Estate made an RTI to the presidency.
The presidency, however, responded to a different request which was submitted on the same day the request for information on the Zoomlion COVID-19 fumigation contract was made. That response explained why it could not release information on the other subject matter.
Fumigation/disinfection scandal involving the presidency
Four days after Ghana recorded its first COVID-19 case in March 2020, President Akufo-Addo ordered the closure of all schools in Ghana.
When the schools were about to be re-opened after three months, the president directed an indiscriminate nationwide fumigation/disinfection of schools against the coronavirus.
In August 2020, Manasseh Azure Awuni wrote to the Ministry of Education for information on the science backing the exercise and contractual arrangements about the COVID-19 fumigation exercise in schools across the country.
The ministry responded a year later— in August 2021—but said the presidency was responsible for the contractual arrangements for the school’s fumigation.
The Ministry of Education’s letter, signed by the sector minister, Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum, said it could not give the cost or details about the Covid-19 schools’ fumigation.
“It is pertinent to note that the 2020 fumigation and disinfection exercise was done under a Presidential Initiative by the Nationwide Re-opening of Schools and Educational Institutions Co-ordinating Committee.
“The Ministry, therefore, had little role in the exercise for which reason we are unable to provide the information requested,” the letter said.
This prompted the RTI request to the presidency.
Other scandalous Covid-19 fumigation/disinfection exercises involving the presidency and Zoomlion
A similar request was sent to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) in August 2020, demanding to know how much it cost Ghana to undertake the fumigation and disinfection of markets in order to curb the spread of Covid-19. The ministry responded swiftly.
That exercise was ordered by the Presidency.
In a letter dated August 25, 2020, and signed by the then sector Minister, Hajia Alima Mahama, the Ministry said it spent GH₵ 76, 561,681.06 for Phase One of the exercise and another GH₵ 76, 561,681.06 for Phase Two of the exercise.
This means the Ministry spent GH₵ 153,123,361 on the two exercises.
Less than a month earlier when the Minister of Finance, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, presented the supplementary budget to parliament on July 23, 2020, he said the government had spent GH₵ 122 million, being “allocation from Budget to support Fumigation and management of landfill sites.”
The GH₵ 122 million the finance minister presented on only Phase One is close to the total cost of Phase One and Phase Two that the Ministry gave.
When Manasseh wrote a follow-up letter to the ministry in September 2020 for an explanation on why its figure was lower than the one presented by the finance minister, the ministry did not respond.
In a documentary titled “The Covid-19 spraying scandal initiated by president Akufo-Addo” published by Manasseh Azure Awuni in December 2021, Scientists at the University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology said even if there were Covid-19 cases in the schools before they were shut down, the virus would have died after three months. This position was supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO said routine application of disinfectants to environmental surfaces via spraying or fogging (also known as fumigation or misting) is not recommended.
“Spraying or fumigation of outdoor spaces (such as streets, sidewalks, walkways or marketplaces), is not recommended to remove or inactivate SARS-CoV-2 or other pathogens. Streets and sidewalks are not considered as routes of infection for COVID-19. Moreover, disinfectants are inactivated by dirt and debris, and it is not feasible to manually clean and remove all organic matter from such spaces. Even in the absence of organic matter, chemical spraying is unlikely to adequately cover all surfaces for the duration of the required contact time to inactivate pathogens,” part of the statement read.
It however recommended that “if disinfectants are to be applied, manual surface cleaning with detergents and water using applied friction (brushing or scrubbing) must be performed first to ensure physical removal of organic material, followed by use of cloth or wipe”.
This did not form part of the fumigation exercise that was carried out in schools and markets across the country as trucks loaded with disinfectants sprayed public roads and covered surfaces of traders in the markets.