Executive Director of the Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) has indicated his disappointed in the High Court’s decision to allow the National Communication Authority (NCA) charging fees for information it requested.
Speaking on Newsnight, Thursday, Sulemana Braimah stated that Ghana does not need the Right To Information (RTI) law and the provision in the constitution that says citizens are entitled to information if they have to pay money for it.
He told Emefa Apawu that, “I think overall, we are disappointed by the decision of the court and that is because we went to court as an institution not because we cannot afford GH¢2,000. Indeed, we certainly would spend more than GH¢2,000, in court. We went to court because the request to pay GH¢2,000 makes nonsense of the whole RTI law.”
“I am surprised that at the end of the day, the court says we should pay not GH¢2,000 but ¢1,500. My surprise emanates from the fact that we are dealing with an institution that is mandated by law that it regulates the media landscape, it issues authorisation and under certain circumstances it can shut down media houses.”
Mr Braimah’s comment follows a High Court decision to uphold NCA’s decision to charge MFWA fees after they requested for the full list of all authorised FM stations as of the second quarter of 2020, with indications of the dates of first authorisation, dates of last authorisation renewals, locations, and operational status of the radio stations – that is whether they are on-air or off-air.
The NCA demanded ¢2,000 for the service. However, the MFWA claimed the fee was unlawful, unreasonable, unfair, and in violation of its constitutional and fundamental right to access information, hence the suit.
The Foundation had prayed the High Court, among other reliefs, to declare that the amount of ¢2,000 demanded by the NCA to generate the information constitutes constructive denial, refusal, failure or neglect, and breach of Applicant’s right to information under Article 21(1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.
However, on Thursday, the High Court presided over by Justice Gifty Agyei Addo ruled that the NCA has the mandate to charge fees for its services hence the order to MFWA to pay ¢1,500.
Aside from dismissing all the reliefs MFWA was seeking, the Court held that MFWA failed to establish any basis for the claim that its request is in the public interest.
But, Mr Braimah stated that the Foundation did not need to outrightly say the request for information was in the public interest, especially since the issues of radio shutdowns had been talked about in Parliament and the Communications Minister, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, had to answer questions on it not only in Parliament but during her vetting.
“I really am waiting for the full ruling of the court, because I would really be extremely surprised if that happens to be the decision of the court. This is a matter involving radio stations that were broadcasting to the public, a matter that had gone to the Electronic Communications Tribunal, and a decision had been made, a matter that the NCA itself had issued statements on.”
“For the court to say it’s not of public interest, I don’t think we have to say ‘this request we are making is of public interest’ to establish that it’s of public interest. But even if it were personal, must I pay a public institution to give me information that is holding on behalf of the public, am I not a member of the public, don’t I pay taxes and so on and so forth?”
Mr Braimah stated that his outfit, in the coming days, will make public some of the fees public institutions are charging people who are requesting information.
He said that many of these institutions are charging people exorbitant rates for the release of public information.
He added that the MFWA will be taking further actions after reading the full court ruling stating that one of such actions might include an appeal.