The Fourth Estate has dragged Ghana’s presidency to the Right to Information (RTI) Commission for its refusal to disclose information on the cost of renting private jets for the president’s foreign travels.
The petition to the RTI Commission is requesting for a review of the presidency’s refusal to grant the information, which was requested by the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni.
Manasseh filed a right to information request at the presidency on December 2, 2021, to know the cost of renting the private jet for President Akufo-Addo’s travels between May and September 2021.
He also demanded information on the procurement processes used in selecting the company or companies renting the jets.
The request also wanted an assessment report of the current state of Ghana’s presidential jet, which suggests it is technically unfit for foreign trips , for which reason the presidency rents private jets.
In a response on January 19, 2022, the Chief of Staff, Akosua Frema Osei-Opare commended The Fourth Estate for its use of the RTI law. She, however, said the information requested was exempt according to the RTI law.
“Your request for access to information on the president’s travel has been carefully considered and I have found that the information requested falls within the kinds of information classified as “exempt from disclosure” by the RTI Act as the information requests relate to:
- The movement and travels of the president, the Commander-In-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, which information is a matter of national security.
- Information on the processes leading to the choice by the President of a specific aircraft for his travels and the manner of those travels; and
- The presidential jet is part of the equipment of the Ghana Armed Forces and thus, its use is part of the defence mechanisms of the Republic.
“The Information requested is, therefore, exempt under sections 5(1) (b)(ii),9(1)(a) and (9)(2) of the RTI Act.
“Accordingly, pursuant to section 23(4) and 27(1) (b) of the RTI Act, your request is hereby refused for the reasons above,” the Chief of Staff’s response stated.
Unsatisfied with the response, Manasseh wrote an internal appeal to President Akufo-Addo on February 10, 2022, for a review of the Chief of Staff’s decision. This step was in accordance with section 31 of the RTI Act, 2019 (Act 989).
He argued that despite the Chief of Staff’s reference to section 5(1) of the RTI Act, section 5(2) of the Act states that “Information which contains factual or statistical data is not exempt information.”
“Section 5(2) therefore excludes parts of our request, especially the portions relating to numbers, costs, and statistics, from being exempt,” he stated.
“Moreover, the issue concerning the president’s hiring and travels in a private jet is an issue of public interest that has generated fierce debates and discussions in parliament, the media, and among the general public,” the appeal to the president stated.
It continued, “For many citizens, the issue borders on the abuse of authority by the president, and neglect in the performance of his official function of protecting the public purse, especially when the state has a functioning presidential jet in Dassault Falcon 900-EXE, which is being used by some heads of States in the West African sub-region. My request, therefore, relates to the public interest and abuse of authority, in accordance with section 17(1)(d)(e) which states:
“‘Despite a provision of this Act on information exempt from disclosure, information is not exempt from disclosure if the disclosure of the information reveals evidence of:
(d)an abuse of authority or a neglect in the performance of an official function;
or (e) any other matter of public interest and the benefits of disclosure clearly outweigh the harm or danger that the disclosure will cause.'”
The appeal to the President said the response of the Chief of Staff failed to prove that disclosing the cost of the private jet rented by the president, and the procurement processes leading to that could jeopardise the security of the president.
More than 15 days later, the president failed to respond to the internal review application as required by the RTI law. This necessitated an appeal to the RTI Commission on the matter.
While assenting to the RTI law, President Akufo-Addo had said in a Twitter post that the law “presents a further opportunity for Ghanaians to have access to relevant information on how the country is governed.”
The president’s use of a private jet continues to generate intense debate and public discussions, with many stating that it berates the president’s promise of protecting the public purse.
North Tongu Member of Parliament and Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, has waged a sole campaign on the president’s use of a private jet for travels while the state has a presidential jet, the Dassault Falcon 900-EXE.
The National Security Minister, Albert Kan Dapaah, said in December 2021 that the government could not disclose the cost of the president’s private jet. He was responding to a question filed by Mr Ablakwa in Parliament.
“Mr Speaker, recent official travels to France, Belgium and South Africa by President Akufo-Addo are paid out of the operational funds from the Ministry of National Security. Mr Speaker, payments of the operational funds are glued with rules of confidentiality and state secrecy and it is not the normal practice …to make suggested disclosures,” Mr Dapaah justified.
This is the second time The Fourth Estate, through its Editor-in-Chief, Manasseh Azure Awuni, has taken the presidency to the RTI Commission.
The first was when the presidency failed to respond to a request on the cost of fumigation and disinfestation contracts awarded to Zoomlion Ghana Limited to spray schools in the midst of the Covid-19.