As part of the global celebrations marking Universal Access to Information, the MFWA will be publishing a series of explainers about Access to Information laws in West Africa. This article is one of the series.
In March 2019, Ghana’s parliament passed its Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2019 (Act 989). The passage was a culmination of about two decades of relentless campaigns by media stakeholders and civil society groups in which the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) took the frontline.
Since the passage of the law, the MFWA has organised several training workshops, forums and advocacy engagements across the length and breadth of the country. These workshops and engagements have aimed at creating awareness, improving understanding and facilitating the law’s implementation.
So far, about 500 people have been trained. These include coordinating directors of the various Municipal, Metropolitan and District Assemblies (local government authorities), Information Officers of the Assemblies, journalists, youth activists, citizens groups and some selected leaders of persons with disability (PWD) groups.
Throughout these training workshops and engagements, the MFWA has observed the recurrence of some questions about the RTI Law. This article provides answers to 15 of these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
- What information can I have access to and what can I not request?
Generally, the RTI law works on the basis that citizens, as a matter of right, are entitled to access information about every public institution’s work. However, not every information can be given out as some may relate to people’s privacy, state security and issues of national intelligence and international relations.
Therefore, some categories of information are exempt from disclosure and thus inaccessible to applicants. In the law, these exempt categories of information are captured in sections 5-17. They are:
- Information for the President or the Vice-President
- Information relating to Cabinet
- Information relating to law enforcement and public safety
- Information affecting international relations
- Information that affects the security of the State
- Economic and any other interests
- Economic information of third parties
- Information related to tax
- Internal working information of public institutions
- Parliamentary privilege, fair trial, contempt of court
- Privileged information
- Disclosure of personal manners
- Disclosure for the protection of public interest
It is to be noted though that the exemption is not a blanket denial of access; depending on the set of conditions, some information exempted from disclosure can be disclosed. For example, information that may ordinarily be exempted can be disclosed if the information reveals evidence of abuse of authority, neglect of duty or violation of the law. Also, access to a statistical breakdown of some of the exempted information may be granted.
- How do I know the information I am requesting is exempt?
Always refer to the list of exempt information in sections 5-27 and crosscheck to ascertain if your request borders on any of them. Nonetheless, you may be granted access if you seek to have a statistical breakdown or have evidence of abuse of authority, neglect of duty or the breaking of the law.
- Must I explain why I need the information I have requested?
No. Section 1 (3) of the RTI law says an applicant may request information without giving a reason. Essentially, access to information is deemed a fundamental human right that you must not convince anyone to enjoy.
- How much do I pay for requesting information?
The RTI law does not specify how much an applicant should pay for information. In fact, it does not enjoin applicants to pay for information, except for the cost incurred in the reproduction (printing or photocopy) of the information requested. Thus, the fees must not be exorbitant.
On the cost for reproduction of information, the RTI law refers to the Fees and Charges (miscellaneous provisions) Act, 2022 (Act 1038) which has been passed by Parliament. In the Act, the cost of printing on an A4-size page is GHS 0.38 while a photocopy of the same size GHS costs 0.27. A copy of a computer-readable file on an external storage drive costs GHS 0.29.
- Will I pay for every piece of information I request?
No. It is free when you request the following information:
- the reproduction of personal information of the applicant;
- the reproduction of personal information of a person on whose behalf an application is made;
- the reproduction of information which is in the public interest;
- information that should have been provided within the stipulated time under the RTI law
Also, when a person with a disability or an indigent requests information, they are not supposed to pay for it.
- Which institution can I request information from?
Every public institution is obliged to provide information to citizens under the RTI law. In fact, private institutions working with public funds are also under the obligation to grant access to information under the law.
- To whom do I address my request, given that different public institutions may have different portfolios for their officers?
The law stipulates that the Information Officer of the public institution must deal with all RTI applications. Therefore, all applications must be addressed to an “Information Officer” or anyone who acts in a similar capacity in the public institution.
- What if the public institution doesn’t respond?
If after 14 days you do not receive a response to your application from the public institution, the law allows you to deem it as a refusal or denial of access to the information. You are expected to write an “internal review or appeal” within 30 days to the head of the public institution prompting him/her that you wrote an application that has been denied. The head of the public institution will be expected to internally review your request and provide feedback within 15 days.
- What if the public institution says I cannot have the information?
The public institution will be expected to provide a reason for the denial. If you are not satisfied with the reason, and that reason was communicated to you by an Information Officer or any other person apart from the head of the institution, you are entitled to make an internal appeal or review to the head of the institution.
9a. What if the Head of Institution does not also respond or affirm the decision of the information officer?
Then you can appeal to the Right to Information Commission which is set up to make determinations on such issues.
- Who must an RTI Commission appeal be addressed to?
It must be addressed to the Executive Secretary who is the head of the Commission.
- What if I am dissatisfied with the decision of the RTI Commission?
An applicant who is dissatisfied with the determination of the RTI Commission can file an application for judicial review in the High Court. The application must be filed within 21 days after the RTI Commission’s decision.
- But I cannot read nor write, so how useful is this law to me then?
An illiterate person or a person suffering a disability who is unable to make the application in writing, can visit the institution and be directed to the information unit to be attended to by the Information Officer.
The information officer is obligated to carefully record in detail and in writing the oral request of the illiterate person. An independent witness must be called to observe the process and sign to indicate that he/she was present when the request was read out to the applicant in a language the applicant understands and indeed the applicant “appeared to have understood the content of the request”.
The applicant has the opportunity to effect changes and/or introduce additions to reflect his/her desired request. The applicant then makes a thumbprint or a mark on the written request, and is handed a duplicate copy.
- What if I am a person with a disability (PWD)?
The answer to question 11 applies to you. However, a person with a disability can have another ‘abled’ person make a request on their behalf.
Also, the manner of access in which public institutions must provide information includes braille for persons with visual impairment.
- How long does it take for a public institution to provide me with the information?
A public institution has 14 days to respond to an application. The response must communicate whether the public institution is providing full access, partial access or denying the applicant access to the information entirely.
- What if I need this piece of information urgently?
Where an applicant requests that information be granted urgently, a reason must be stated for the urgency.