The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has demanded GH¢2,500 from The Fourth Estate to provide information requested under the Right to Information (RTI) law.
The news website had requested documents from the EPA on approval granted a US-based telecommunications company, ATC Ghana, to hoist a telecom mast.
The mast, located at Taifa Burkina in Accra, has become a source of concern to residents who say they don’t feel safe.
But the EPA says, before it can show proof that it is doing its work, The Fourth Estate must show cash. In a letter signed by the Deputy Executive Director/General Services, Dr. Christine Okae Asare, on behalf of the Executive Director, the EPA said:
“We wish to inform you that, in line with the Fees and Charges (Amendment) Instrument, 2019 (LI2386), you are required to pay a search fee of Two Thousand and Five Hundred Ghana Cedis (GHC 2500.00) by Banker’s draft made payable to Environmental Protection Agency before the collection of the search response.”
The request for monies raises concerns that some public institutions are commercializing the RTI law, which is meant to deepen citizen participation and democratic accountability.
The EPA becomes one of public institutions to commercialise the RTI law after similar attempts by institutions such as the National Communications Authority (NCA) and the Minerals Commission.
Also Read: RTI Commission writes to Council of State for refusing to grant The Fourth Estate request
In June 2021, the Minerals Commission asked The Fourth Estate to pay $1,000 before releasing information on companies licensed to undertake mining in Ghana between January 2013 and May 2021, and companies whose licenses have been revoked or suspended within the same period.
When RTI Commission instructed the Minerals Commission to release the information to The Fourth Estate at a cost of GHC2.00, the Minerals Commission refused, challenging the decision at the High Court.
An Accra High Court presided over by Justice Gifty Agyei Addo dismissed the Mineral Commission’s suit.
The Minerals Commission has gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge the verdict.
In a similar fashion, the NCA, in July 2020, asked the MFWA to pay GH¢2000 for information on the closure of some radio stations across the country.
Petition to RTI Commission
The Fourth Estate has petitioned the Right to Information Commission for a review of the EPA’s demand for GHC2,500 before granting the RTI request.
The petition is in line with Section 65(1) and 67(1)(c) of the RTI law. Section 65(1) states that “a person who is dissatisfied with a decision of a public institution or a relevant private body may apply to the Commission for a review of the decision.”
Section 67(1)(c) states: (1) Despite section 66, a person may make an application to the Commission without exhausting the internal review procedure under this Act where:
(c) the head of the public institution or the relevant private body is the information officer of that institution or body
Currently, The Fourth Estate is awaiting the ruling of the RTI Commission over the demand by the EPA.
Sometimes I don’t understand the makers of our laws. They intentionally put on the payment clause and made it ambiguous so that these corrupt-minded officials can hide in the shadows of those clauses just to frustrate information seekers.
Clearly, those clauses were designed to make life difficult for information seekers. We could have avoided this whole situation of having to go to court just to determine fees by stating the fees to be charged or making the whole thing free of charge.
The ignorance among public officials is simply mind-boggling. It makes Ghana a backward country. This is public information produced by public officials with public funds. It shouldn’t be for sale. They don’t seem to even understand what the right to information is all about. Are they aware of the RTI law? Have they read the law? It seems to me parliament should pass supplementary legislation on the law making it a criminal offense for public officials to demand more money than is required in the law, when asked for information.
2,500 cedis for just miscellaneous? Sometimes I doubt if these officers really read the constitution before they come out to say anything. Something which is supposed to be free to all citizens and the only thing I have to pay for is just printing and photocopies and I’m asked to pay 2,500😂😂 why what kind of A4 sheets and toners are they using to print the documents 😂😂😂