RTI Court case: MFWA disappointed at Ruling

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has received with disappointment the ruling on June 17, 2021 by the Human Rights Division of the Accra High Court on MFWA’s request to Ghana’s broadcasting frequency regulator, the National Communications Authority (NCA), for information on the closure of a number of broadcast stations.

Background
In exercising our right under the Right to Information (RTI) Law and Article 21 (f) of the 1992 Constitution, the MFWA sued the regulator late last year after it demanded GHC2,000 in order to grant the request for information on the radio stations it shut down.

The NCA had indicated that the FM stations it shut down, including notable ones sympathetic to the main opposition National Democratic Party (NDC), had not renewed their authorisation license. MFWA noticed from the NCA’s “List of Authorised VHF-FM Radio Stations in Ghana as at Second Quarter 2020” that some radio stations whose last authorisation renewal suggested that they had defaulted were still operating while others were shut down. This information was on the website of the NCA as required by law.

When the MFWA made calls to the NCA to find out, the NCA official promised to get back to the organisation with a response. That response did not come. The NCA, however, pulled down the information on its website and deleted two columns—date of first authorisation and date of last authorisation renewal—before uploading the information again on its website.

We asked for the reason for the deletion of the two columns from the report it had previously published.

Ruling
The Court granted our requests 1, 2 and 4 relating to the list of all radio stations that had been shut down by the NCA, a list of all authorised TV stations, a list of all authorised VHF-FM radio stations, and the respective dates of first authorisation and last authorisation renewal. The presiding judge, Justice Gifty Agyei Addo, however, declined the request for the regulator to explain certain changes it had made to a report on its website.

The MFWA is disappointed at the ruling for a number of reasons:

1. The Court asked that the MFWA pays a fee of GHC1,500 to the NCA in order to have our request granted. The bone of contention was the GHC2000 the NCA demanded in order to furnish the MFWA with the information we had requested under the RTI law. We find it curious that the judge ordered us to pay GHC1,500 for the information, despite stating that the NCA had misconceived the provisions on fees and charges under the Electronic Communications Act (Act 775). We find the amount to be exorbitant, given that section 23(3)(d) of the RTI Act provides that “Where the Information Officer decides to give access; the notice shall state the prescribed fee for the REPRODUCTION of information.” (Emphasis supplied).

2. The NCA already has the information we requested—the information based on which it proceeded to shut down radio stations—and does not have to conduct any kind of research to put it together as the authority is claiming. Even if the NCA had to conduct a fresh search in order to compile the information, the law provides for payment for the reproduction of the information such as printing, photocopying etc. and not the time used by the public official to put the information together.

3. The fee of GHC2,000 demanded by the NCA was a ploy to dissuade us from pursuing the information we were seeking. The MFWA did not go to court because it could not pay. While we can pay the GHC1,500 fees decided by the court, it is important to underline the fact that the right to access public information under the RTI law accrues to all Ghanaians including the lowest income earners. This precedent, can therefore, discourage or disenable a certain class of Ghanaians from exercising this.

4. The court also dismissed our request to the NCA to explain why it deleted two columns from its report before reposting on its website saying we were asking for an opinion, and not information. We find this unfortunate because request for information is not limited to data. The information could be an explanation for decisions taken by the public institutions on behalf of the people.

5. Another issue we find worrying about the judgment is the Court’s decision that the information we requested is not of public interest. The radio stations broadcast to the general public and their closure was of national interest. The Minister responded to the issue in parliament and it featured prominently during the sector minister’s vetting. It is therefore difficult to understand how the request could be said to be for the MFWA’s personal interest.

6. We wish to state that we went to court as a matter of principle. We sought to prevent a precedent that can encourage public institutions to dissuade RTI requests by demanding exorbitant fees from applicants, some of whom could be ordinary or even vulnerable citizens.

We will wait and study the judgement from the court together with our legal team to decide the next line of action and would inform the public accordingly.

S. AFRICA HONOURS ZAMBIA’S KAUNDA WITH 10 MOURNING DAYS

South Africa has declared 10 days of national mourning for Zambia’s founding president Kenneth Kaunda who died at the age of 97 following a bout of pneumonia, the presidency said Friday.
Zambia under Kaunda was one of the countries most opposed to the apartheid government and for decades hosted the exiled African National Congress (ANC) on its soil.
Kaunda was the first foreign leader South African liberation icon Nelson Mandela visited on his release from prison in 1990.
“In remembrance of this great leader the South African government has declared a period of mourning for 10 days with immediate effect,” said a statement from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office.
Zambia itself is observing 21 days of national mourning, with flags flying at half mast and all entertainment banned.
Ramaphosa said Kaunda is a “rightfully revered father of African independence and unity” whose “leadership was a source of inspiration and resilience”.
“He stood alongside the people of South Africa at the time of our greatest need and was unwavering in his desire for the achievement of our freedom,” said Ramaphosa.
“We will never be able to repay the debt of gratitude” owed to Kaunda, he added.
In neighbouring Botswana, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has ordered seven days of mourning in honour of the “selfless” Kaunda, an “iconic statesman of the highest credentials”.
Kaunda ruled Zambia for 27 years, taking the helm after the country gained independence from Britain in October 1964.

Source: National News Agency

COVID-19: Vaccines donated next year, ‘too late for those who are dying today’

Millions more COVID vaccines need to be donated now to save lives and help the UN health agency reach the key global target of having 70 per cent of all national populations vaccinated, by the middle of 2022.

That was one of the main messages relayed to reporters on Friday by World Health Organization (WHO) chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said if richer countries and pharmaceutical companies wait to donate and produce more shots until next year, that will be “too late for those who are dying today.”

Lauding Guinea’s expected announcement on Saturday that its latest Ebola virus disease outbreak has been curbed after just four months, he said it showed what could be done on a much larger scale, with the coronavirus.

Global vaccine failure
“And yet even after 18 months, the ineffective use of public health and social measures, increased social mixing and vaccine inequity, continue to give COVID-19 an opportunity to mutate, spread and kill”, said Tedros. “The global failure to share vaccines equitably is fuelling a two-track pandemic that is now taking its toll on some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Every region has countries that are now facing a steep increase in cases and deaths, he noted, adding that Latin American nations are in dire straits, with cases in Africa, increasing by 52% in just the past week.

“And we expect things to only get worse. Less than one per cent of Africa’s population has been vaccinated. Vaccines donated next year will be far too late for those who are dying today, or being infected today, or at risk today.”

Firm targets
WHO’s global targets are to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the population of every country by September, at least 40 per cent by the end of 2021, and 70 per cent by the middle of next year.

“These are the critical milestones we must reach together to end the pandemic” said Tedros, comparing the current 20 per cent fully vaccinated rate in more than half of richer nations, with the chilling statistic that the same can be said of only three lower and middle-income countries. 

“We very much appreciate the vaccine donations announced by the G7 and others. And we thank those countries including the United States that have committed to sharing doses in June and July. We urge others to follow suit. We need vaccines to be donated now to save lives”, Tedros added.

Source: United Nations

Famine risk spikes amid conflict, COVID-19 and funding gaps: WFP

The impact of conflicts old and new, climate shocks and COVID-19, in addition to a lack of funding, have left millions more on the verge of famine than six months ago, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.

In an appeal for $5 billion “to avoid famine” and support the “biggest operation in its history”, WFP spokesperson Phiri Tomson said that millions of refugees faced “uncertainty and hunger” as the impact of the pandemic on emergency aid budgets became clearer.

“The number of people teetering on the brink of famine has risen from 34 million projected at the beginning of the year, to 41 million projected as of June”, he said. “Without immediate emergency food assistance, they too face starvation, as the slightest shock will push them over the cliff into famine conditions.”

From bad to worse
According to the latest IPC food insecurity assessments – which humanitarians use to assess needs on a scale of one to five – the 41 million “are people who are in IPC phase 4 – emergency”, the WFP spokesperson explained.

New refugee influxes linked to conflict and drought have increased needs for people in “IPC phase 5 – catastrophe” and “that number stands at 584,000 people”, Mr. Phiri continued. “These are people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Madagascar, particularly the southern part; South Sudan, especially as we are now at the height of the lean season in that country, and Yemen.”

‘Brutal choices’
Launching its Global Operational Response Plan, the UN agency highlighted operations in no less than eight countries and regions where it has had to make “brutal choices” because of significant funding shortfalls.

In practice, this has meant reduced rations “across east and southern Africa, as well as the Middle East…among some of the world’s most vulnerable people who rely on WFP to survive”, said Mr. Phiri.

“In some cases it’s 40 per cent, in some cases it’s 25 per cent, in some cases it’s 60 per cent…The fact is, the assistance we provide is a basic need, the assistance we provide is just enough to help people get by.”

West and Central Africa in crisis
For many vulnerable aid recipients in West and Central Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has left them without the opportunity to work to supplement their rations and unable to pay for increasingly expensive staple foods. “Countries like Chad, Niger and Burkina, Mauritania; these are all countries of concern, including Sierra Leone as well,” said Mr. Phiri, after a warning by the UN agency that the world was no longer moving towards Zero Hunger.

“Progress has stalled, reversed, and today, more than 270 million people are estimated to be acutely food insecure or at high risk in 2021,” it said in a statement.

Source: UN news Centre

USAID Provides $91 Million in Urgently Needed Food, Water, and Health Care for COVID-19 Response Across Africa

Today, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) COVID-19 Task Force Executive Director Jeremy Konyndyk announced more than $91 million to provide urgently needed food assistance, health care, water, and psychosocial support for people across Africa, in order to address urgent humanitarian needs caused by the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
This funding includes:
• $7.5 million for Burkina Faso to provide vital food assistance, protection for children and survivors of gender-based violence by expanding access to basic services, and logistics support to ensure humanitarian assistance and workers reach communities affected by conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
• $7.5 million for Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania to provide food assistance for refugees, people who have returned to their communities, and other vulnerable community members to recover from the pandemic’s economic impacts.
• $9 million for Chad to provide food assistance, including school meals, for vulnerable people and nutrition assistance to children.
• Nearly $4.7 million for the Democratic Republic of the Congo for protection of vulnerable people, primary healthcare services, and support to strengthen capacity by training health care workers to respond to future disease outbreaks and health emergencies.
• More than $4.4 million for Kenya to provide agriculture and nutrition support, train community health workers, ensure communities have safe water by rehabilitating boreholes, distributing water treatment kits, and providing water to health facilities.
• $5.5 million for Mozambique to provide critical food and nutrition assistance, protection for women and children, as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene services to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and water-borne diseases.
• $14.7 million for Somalia to improve access to lifesaving health care services, treat acutely malnourished women and children, deliver safe drinking water and hygiene supplies, and provide emergency psychosocial support for survivors of gender-based violence.
• Approximately $30 million for South Sudan to provide critical primary health care, health education, and training for health workers, as well as support for critical logistics, shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, among other assistance.
• More than $3 million for Sudan to support risk communication and community engagement, provide vital hygiene supplies and personal protective equipment, and respond to gender-based violence.
• $4.6 million for Zimbabwe to provide food assistance to the most vulnerable rural communities to help build long-term resilience, following lockdowns that have curbed economic opportunities.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID has provided more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to help millions impacted by the virus across the world. As communities endure and recover from the pandemic’s impacts, USAID will continue to provide life-saving assistance to meet urgent needs, as well as make investments to prepare for future outbreaks in humanitarian settings.
For the latest updates on USAID’s response to COVID-19, visit: USAID’s COVID-19 Response | US Agency for International Development.

Source: US Agency for International Development