The Right to Information (RTI) Commission has fined the Ghana Education Service (GES) GHS50,000. The penalty was a result of the GES’s failure to respond to the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni. He had requested information on the fumigation exercise in schools in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
In a letter dated, 20th February 2023, the commission stated: “Based on the Respondent’s failure to make decisions on the Applicant’s application lodged with it, the Respondent has clearly failed to perform its obligation under Act 989. This is coupled with its failure to respond to the Commission’s letter received by it.”
The commission said that the “action by the GES is an infringement on Right of Access to Information under Article 21 (1) of the 1992 constitution of Ghana and affirmed by Act 989.”
It also ordered the GES to provide the information requested by Manasseh Azure Awuni in 14 days. If it fails to provide the information within the stipulated period, it shall attract an additional penalty at the rate of 10 percent on the principal penalty sum of GHS50,000 after every 14days.
Details of The Fourth Estate request for information
Manasseh Azure Awuni had written to the Ghana Education Service in August 2020. He needed information for an investigative documentary he produced on a shady procurement and fumigation exercise carried out in schools across the country. Specifically, he requested the following pieces of information:
- The scope of work in the covid-19 related fumigation/disinfection carried out in the schools, i.e. the category of schools and numbers.
- What science informed the decision to disinfect schools when they had been closed for more than three months, and there had not been any evidence of covid-19 outbreak in schools before all schools were shut down?
- Which individuals or agencies advised the Ministry of Education on the exercise?
- The costs of the covid-19 fumigation/disinfection of schools across the country for each of the phases-phase 1, phase 2, phase 3 and any other covid-19 fumigation/disinfection cost undertaken in schools.
- The companies selected for the exercise and reasons for their selection.
- The procurement method or methods used for the contracts and reasons.
- Copies of the contract or contracts awarded for the schools covid-19 disinfection/fumigation.
- Amounts paid for each of the phases, dates the payments were made for the company or companies that carried out the exercise.
- Any additional information you may deem necessary.
The Ministry responded to the application on August 5, 2021, one year after the request was made and after several appeals and visits by Manasseh Azure Awuni.
However, the Ministry did not provide The Fourth Estate with the information needed. It only redirected the applicant to the Office of the President. The Ministry, according to the RTI commission said, “the information requested was executed under a Presidential Initiative by the Nationwide Reopening of Schools and Educational Institutions Co-ordinating Committee. “
Office of the President
Based on the information received by the applicant, Mr. Awuni redirected his request to the Office of the President, but he did not get any response. He petitioned the RTI Commission after an internal appeal to the presidency yielded no results.
Under the RTI law, Section 23 (1)-(2), an institution has 14 days to determine whether it has the information requested 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 to 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.”
Failure to do this within the stipulated period of time is considered a denial of information. The Commission, therefore, wrote to the Office of the President on February 7, 2022, requesting reasons for denying Mr. Awuni access to the information he requested. Four days after the Commission’s letter, it received a response from the Office of the President regarding the transfer of the application to the GES for attention.
According to the RTI Commission, “The Office of the President responded to Manasseh in a letter dated February 11, 2022, with reference number: SCR/DA255/290/01 informing him of the transfer of his application to the GES for its urgent action.”
It added, “The Honourable Chief of Staff also responded to the Commission’s letter on 24th February 2022, informing the Commission that the application for information had been transferred to the GES.”
Manasseh did not receive any response from the GES five months after the Office of the President indicated it had transferred the request to the GES. On July 7, 2022, he sent another request to the Director-General of GES as a follow-up on the request. However, the GES did not respond to that request compelling him to appeal to the commission.
The RTI Commission indicated that it wrote a letter to the GES on October 3, 2022.
“In the said letter, the Commission requested to be furnished with the reasons for the refusal to grant the applicant access to the pieces of information he requested for.”
But the GES failed to respond to the letter from the Commission and has since been fined GHS50,000 for its refusal to communicate with the applicant when it received a transfer from the Office of the President, according to section 20 (3) of ACT 989.
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