The Ministry of Information (MoI), as part of the implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act (ACT 989), has begun sensitisation exercises on the Act for the management and staff of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
The aim of these exercises, which began on Monday and is expected to continue for the next 16 days, is to introduce key areas of ACT 989 to the management and staff of the various MDAs in order to ensure the effective implementation of the law.
At a sensitisation exercise for workers of the Ministry for Railways Development, a member of the sensitisation team and Principal Value Officer at the Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate (PPME) of MoI, Mr. Mawuli Segbefia, in a presentation, stated that the RTI law was very important because it would help build a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs.
Mr. Segbefia indicated that the law was revolutionary since it would change the way information was generated, stored and diffused in the public service and would also ensure that no one would be denied access to information s/he requested.
He highlighted that the law provided a solid legal framework for access to information, a clear application procedure, clear times lines for response to request and also provided for a proactive disclosure of information.
Mr. Segbefia explained that the process of requesting for information entailed: the picking up of a standard access to information request form from a public institution, filling the form and submitting it to the information unit or registry of the public institution.
He added that the application form would be then received and the applicant notified in with 14 working days after submission on the availability or existence of the information requested; and that where the information exists, the applicant shall be notified of the manner and data in which access may be granted (between one and 120 days upon notification on the existence of information) and the prescribed fee for the reproduction of the information requested.
According to Mr. Segbefia, offences under Act 989 included: failure or neglect by an information officer or other public officers to performance function under the law; obtaining personal information of third party under false pretense; willfully providing false statement in order to obtain information; destruction, alteration or concealing of documents; false entry on documents.
He pointed out that people found to have violated the law would attract either a summary conviction of a fine between 250-500 penalty units; a prison term between one to three years; or both.
Mr. Segbefia further noted that, even though the RTI granted access to information, the law exempts certain disclosures which include, information for the president or vice president; information relating to cabinet; information relating law enforcement and public safety; information affecting international relations; and information that affects the security of the state.
He further indicated that although the implementation of the law had started there was some work to be done such as the setting up of RTI Commission for appeals, establishment of information units at the various MDA’s headed by a fully trained RTI Officer; and the nationwide deployment of Information Technology based solutions for the archiving and retrieval of information.
He urged the Ministry on the interim to designate an RTI officer; ensure that the front desk and designated RTI officials are briefed on the handing of request for information; make available application forms for requesting information; and that the ministry should release the designated RTI officer and the Chief Records Officers for training which would start from 11th March, 2020.
In a remark, the Director for PPME of MoI, who was also a member of the sensitisation team, Mrs. Patricia Dovi Sampson, reiterated that information was exempted from disclosure when the disclosure of that information would reveal an opinion, an advice or a recommendation made to a public institution and was likely to undermine the deliberating process.
She added that the exemption included; information that could contravene parliamentary privileges, prejudice the fair trial of a person and infringe privileged information.
The Director encouraged the workers, particular the drivers and security guards, to be aware of the RTI law and help in implementation of the law by directing all visitors who enquired about the RTI to the appropriate office.
Miss Ama Frimpong, a member of the sensitisation team as well as the government communication unit of MoI, echoed that government agencies could not wrongly deny access to information since the law was very specific on issues that were exempted from disclosure.
Miss Frimpong indicated that applicant who felt that they had been wrongly denied access to information had the right to appeal at the RTI Commission which was an external body mandated to promote, protect and enforce the RTI; adding that the applicant can even appeal to the high court if s/he was not satisfied with the decision of the commission.