The Right to Information (RTI) Commission says it cannot provide information on President Akufo-Addo’s travels on both private and state-owned presidential jets, and the accompanying cost incurred.
According to the Commission, such information cannot be made public because it falls under the exempted information specified in section 5 of the RTI law. The RTI Commission cited national security concerns for its ruling.
This follows a petition filed by Manasseh Azuri, a journalist on June 24, 2022, at the RTI Commission, demanding to be furnished with such information.
Giving further reasons for it failure to release such information, the RTI Commission indicated that disclosing the type of flight, the President’s itinerary and the size of the delegation, puts the security of the President at risk and therefore, the information was exempted.
Manasseh Azure Awuni, in December 2021, requested information on the procurement process used in selecting the companies from which the presidency rented private jets for the president’s travels as well as the cost of renting the private jets between May and September 2021.
The Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate also wanted a copy of the assessment report which declared the current presidential jet technically unfit for use by the president for which the presidency resorted to the renting of private jets. The request also wanted to know the number of people who travelled with the president.
In a response on January 19, 2022, the Chief of Staff, Akosua Frema Osei-Opare, commended The Fourth Estate for its use of the RTI law.
She, however, said the information requested was exempted according to the RTI law.
“Your request for access to information on the president’s travel has been carefully considered and I have found that the information requested falls within the kinds of information classified as “exempt from disclosure” by the RTI Act as the information requests relate to:
The movement and travels of the president, the Commander-In-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, which information is a matter of national security.
Information on the processes leading to the choice by the President of a specific aircraft for his travels and the manner of those travels; and
The presidential jet is part of the equipment of the Ghana Armed Forces and thus, its use is part of the defence mechanisms of the Republic.
“The Information requested is, therefore, exempt under sections 5(1) (b)(ii),9(1)(a) and (9)(2) of the RTI Act.
Unsatisfied with the response, Manasseh wrote an internal appeal to President Akufo-Addo on February 10, 2022, for a review of the Chief of Staff’s decision. This step was in accordance with section 31 of the RTI Act, 2019 (Act 989).
He argued that despite the Chief of Staff’s reference to section 5(1) of the RTI Act, section 5(2) of the Act states that “Information which contains factual or statistical data is not exempt information.”
“Section 5(2) therefore excludes parts of our request, especially the portions relating to numbers, costs, and statistics, from being exempt,” he stated.
“Moreover, the issue concerning the president’s hiring and travels in a private jet is an issue of public interest that has generated fierce debates and discussions in parliament, the media, and among the general public,” the appeal to the president stated.
It continued: “For many citizens, the issue borders on the abuse of authority by the president, and neglect in the performance of his official function of protecting the public purse, especially when the state has a functioning presidential jet in Dassault Falcon 900-EXE, which is being used by some heads of States in the West African sub-region. My request, therefore, relates to the public interest and abuse of authority, in accordance with section 17(1)(d)(e), which states:
“‘Despite a provision of this Act on information exempt from disclosure, information is not exempt from disclosure if the disclosure of the information reveals evidence of:
(d) an abuse of authority or a neglect in the performance of an official function;
or (e) any other matter of public interest and the benefits of disclosure clearly outweigh the harm or danger that the disclosure will cause.’”
The appeal to the President said the response of the Chief of Staff failed to prove that disclosing the cost of the private jet rented by the president, and the procurement processes leading to that could jeopardise the security of the president.
RTI Commission in it ruling said a critical assessment of the requests by “the applicant [Manasseh Awuni Azure] shows that responses to those requests, in one way or the other, reveal information about the President’s movement: the number of people he normally travels with, the type of aircraft that is normally hired for his travels and the companies whose aircraft are normally hired and the movement of the presidential jet.”
It added: “All these are things that pertain to the President’s security, the security of his movements, the security of the officers he travels with; all feeding into national security or security of the State. Information in that respect should therefore be exempt from disclosure in accordance with sections 5(1)(b)(ii) and 9 (1)(a), (2) of Act 989,” the commission’s ruling said.
The RTI Commission said although the cost of the President’s travel was statistical data, which should be permissible under Act 989, its view “is that where those figures tell on the security of the President and his entourage, and therefore the national security of the State, those ‘figures’ or statistical information ought to be exempted from disclosure under Act 989 per sections 5(1) (b)(ii),9(1)(a), (2)).’’
The list of 13 exemptions in Section 5 of the Act includes information relating to law enforcement and public safety and security of the state, information prepared for the president, vice president or cabinet. Others are matters affecting international relations and information relating to economic or any other interest.