The National Communications Authority (NCA) has billed the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)GH₵2000 for information it requested from the regulator.
The (MFWA) had invoked the Right to Information Law and requested the “full list (name of company, name of radio station, location, and frequency number) of all FM radio stations that were shut down following the 2017 FM spectrum audit and in line with the 2018 decision of the Electronic Communications Tribunal.”
The MFWA’s letter, which was signed by its Executive Director, Sulemana Braimah, said the request for information was in the exercise of the rights in “Article 21(1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana and Section 18 of the Right to Information Act, 2019, (Act 989).”
The foundation’s letter was addressed to the Information Officer of the NCA and copied to the Director-General of the NCA, Joe Anokye; and Board Chairman of the NCA, Kwaku Sakyi-Addo.
Apart from the list of radio stations shut down, the MFWA’s request for information also demanded the full list of all authorized FM stations and television stations “as of the second quarter of 2020, indicating the dates of first authorization, dates of last authorization renewals, locations, and operational status (on air or off air).”
In the letter to NCA, the MFWA also asked the Authority for an “explanation for the recent replacement of your published 2020 second-quarter report titled: ‘List of Authorised VHF-FM Radio Stations in Ghana as it Second Quarter 2020’, which contained columns for date of first authorization and date for last authorization renewal, with one that now excludes the dates of first authorization and dates of last authorization renewals.”
Citing provisions of Act 989, the MFWA said it would be grateful to receive the requested information within Fourteen (14) days upon the receipt of the letter.
After the 14 days, the MFWA did not get feedback from the NCA. The MFWA then wrote a reminder to the NCA three weeks after it did not receive a response. The NCA then responded but stated that the amount should be paid before it could release the requested information.
The NCA letter, dated August 20, 2020, signed by its Acting Director of Legal, Dr. Poku Adusei, states: “Please be informed that you are required to pay an amount of Two Thousand Ghana Cedis (GHc2000), as per Section 82 (1) (b) of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008, Act 775 to enable us to generate the search report.
“The amount should be paid by banker’s draft to the National Communications Authority at your earliest convenience to facilitate the grant of your request.”
Section 82 (1) of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008, Act 775 states that the “Authority [NCA] may charge fees for (a) an individual licence, class licence, special licence or frequency authorisation or renewal, and (b) a document it makes available to a member of the public or any service it provides.
Section 82 (2) (a) states that “fees charged by the Authority shall be commensurate with the cost of carrying out the functions of the Authority under this act.” While Section 82 (5) states: “The fees shall be published in the Gazette and on the website of the Authority.” The Schedule of fees document found on the NCA’s website did not indicate fees for making available a list of radio stations or any such document to a member of the public.
The MFWA said the fee being demanded by the NCA is outrageous and defeats the purpose of the Right to Information Law, which civil society and the media in Ghana fought for two decades to have it passed.
“The information we requested is something that the NCA should ordinarily publish on their website. We are simply asking for the full list of radio stations they have shut down and the full list of authorised radio and TV stations with dates of first authorisation and dates of last renewal of authorisation. If the NCA has to perform a search before they are able to generate such a report as they stated in their letter, then we in trouble with the management of our frequencies,” said Sulemana
Even though parliament is yet to set fees for various forms of information requested, Mr. Sulemana Braimah said the fees as stated in the RTI law were meant for the processing of the information such as printing or photocopying and if the information is to be put on a USB drive or CD.
He maintained that public information should not be sold to the public because it is for the public and those handling it or processing it are already paid by the public.
He said the MFWA was seeking advice from its lawyers in order not to act in a way that sets bad precedence as far as the implementation of the RTI law was concerned. The Foundation is also seeking clarification on whether different institutional laws could be used to determine fees and other actions when a request is made under the RTI law.
Before the passage of the RTI law, the Registrar General’s Department was already searching and giving information on companies to the public at a fee of GHS 25 per search. The Registrar General’s Department goes through a rigorous process of locating files of the companies searched and responding to the search request from the public.
In the case of the NCA, however, Sulemana Braimah said the information was already available to the authority and MFWA had indicated in its letter that it was willing to accept it by email so he was surprised about the cost being quoted.
Mr. Braimah said not many people or institutions would be able to pay such huge amounts for information they were entitled to from state institutions. He hinted that the MFWA might go to court on the matter and get the NCA to release the information it was seeking.
The NCA was criticized after it shut down a number of FM stations, notably Radio Gold, Montie FM and Radio XYZ, which were aligned with the opposition National Democratic Congress.
Even though the NCA said it had not targeted the opposition media houses, it is yet to publish the full list of radio stations it said it had down.
Disclosures of details on the closed radio stations and other pieces of information are expected to provide greater transparency in the activities of the NCA.
The Right to Information Law was passed in 2019 after almost 20 years of advocacy by the media and civil society organisations.
Already, the Electoral Commission has been dragged to court and compelled by the court to provide information on its procurements to the MP for Ashaiman, Ernest Norgbey. The EC had refused to provide information to the MP who had written under the Right to Information Law.