Fire Service fined GH¢50,000 for refusing The Fourth Estate information

The Right to Information Commission has imposed a fine of GH¢50,000 on the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) for denying The Fourth Estate full access to information.

Julius Kuunuor Aalebkure, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) of the Ghana National Fire Service

The fine is also as a result of the Service’s refusal to respond to the RTI Commission’s request for an explanation. The Ghana National Fire Service(GNFS) has 14 days to pay the fine or risk paying a penalty of 10% of the amount for every 14 days thereafter.

The RTI Commission has also ordered the Fire Service to furnish The Fourth Estate with all the information it requested within 14 days.

The Commission’s ruling was detailed in a determination document dated January 5, 2022, addressed to The Chief Fire Officer of the GNFS, and Kwaku Krobea Asante of The Fourth Estate, who petitioned the Commission.

“Based on sections 71 (2) (f) and 43 (c) of Act 989, on account of the Respondent’s failure to comply with its obligation under section 34 (1) of Act 989, an administrative penalty of GH¢50,000 is imposed on the Respondent [Ghana National Fire Service] and this shall be payable to the Commission by the Respondent not later than 14 days after the receipt of this decision,” the RTI Commission stated in the ruling.

The Fourth Estate’s RTI application to Fire Service

On March 30, 2021, The Fourth Estate’s Kwaku Krobea Asante made an RTI application to Ghana National Fire Service requesting the following information:

1. “The full list of fire outbreaks and locations in Ghana in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020

2. Report on the Accra Atomic Junction Gas explosion

3. Report on the June 3 fire disaster

4. Report on the fire outbreak at the Ghana Revenue Authority office near the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in 2019

5. A regional breakdown of the number of functional fire trucks and the years they were procured.”

After 14 days when the Fire Service failed to respond to the application, The Fourth Estate made an internal appeal to the Chief Fire Officer, head of the GNFS, in line with the RTI Law, Act 989. On July 6, 2021, The Fourth Estate petitioned the RTI Commission after the Chief Fire Officer did not respond to the internal appeal.

We are not bound to release such reports – Fire Service

On July 21, the Ghana National Fire Service granted partial access to the information requested by The Fourth Estate. The Service provided only “The full list of fire outbreaks and locations in Ghana in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020”.

The Fire Service, in a letter attached to the partial information it granted, explained that they are not obliged to release the other pieces of information because it was against their ethics. That letter was signed by DCFO James Owusu Agyei, Director of Operations, on behalf of the Chief Fire Officer,

“Fire Reports involving Institutions and Individuals cannot be made available to you. Legally we are not bound to release such reports until permission has been granted by such institutions and individuals concerned. The Ethics of our profession does not entreat us to divulge such information to a third party who was not directly involved in said incident,” the Fire Service stated in the letter.

No response to RTI Commission

On August 9, 2021, the RTI Commission wrote to the Fire Service requesting the Service to furnish the Commission with the names and addresses of the third parties involved in the reports The Fourth Estate had requested. This follows a petition The Fourth Estate brought to the Commission on the partial access the Fire Service has granted on the RTI application.

The Commission gave the Fire Service 14 days to produce the names and addresses of the third parties. But after three months, according to the Commission, the Fire Service did not respond.

“After over sixty (60) days of the receipt of the Commission’s second letter, the Respondent failed and/or refused to respond, neither did it furnish the Commission with the requested pieces of information,” the ruling stated.

The Commission added that “failure and/or refusal of the Respondent to comply with the Commission’s request made under section 34 (1) of Act 989 smacks of failure to comply with an obligation under Act 989. Under section 71 (2) of Act 989, such a failure is liable to attract an administrative penalty being imposed by the Commission.”

The RTI Commission further stated that it did not find the information The Fourth Estate had requested as exempt information under the RTI law. The Commission said it was, however, hoping the Fire Service would provide the names and addresses of the third parties especially because it bordered on ethical rules. That, the Commission said, would have helped it inform the parties about the pending investigations. But the Fire Service declined to respond.

The Commission said it was, therefore, made to act on section 34 (3) of the RTI law that gives it the power to proceed with its work when details of the third parties are not provided. It ruled that the Ghana National Fire Service should release the information to The Fourth Estate within 14 days.

“Based on the Commission dispensing with third party notification under section 34 (3) of Act of 989, the Acting Chief Fire Officer, Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO) Julius Kuunuor Aalebkure shall ensure that the following pieces of information are released to the Applicant not later than 14 days after receipt of this decision by the Commission;

i. Report on the Accra Atomic Junction Gas explosion

ii. Report on the June 3 fire disaster

iii. Report on the fire outbreak at the Ghana Revenue Authority office near the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in 2019; and

iv. A regional breakdown of the number of functional fire trucks and the years they were procured,” RTI Commission stated in its determination.

The RTI Commission concluded that the Fire Service should release the information to The Fourth Estate at “a reasonable charge of Gh¢ 1.80 per sheet, where it is being released in hard copy, either through printing or photocopying”. If the information is to be emailed, the Commission ordered that the Fire Service applies a charge of GH¢ 1.90.

Source: The Fourth Estate

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