December 14, 2017
The Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC) has in a letter dated 7th November 2017 damned the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS) for being “in violation of Section 13, paragraph (a), (b), & (c) of Part III of the Act [Right to Access Information Act 2013]”, while reminding errant officials in that ministry about the consequences of non-compliance with the provisions of the Act.
According to Ms. Esther M. Kanu, Senior Investigator at RAIC, the MOHS (and officials, including the minister) could be in breach of Section 48(1) of the Act, which states that, “Any person who without reasonable excuse, fails to supply information requested under this Act, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Ten Million Leones in the case of an individual and One Hundred Million Leones in the case of a body corporate or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months or to both the fine and imprisonment.”
Ms. Kanu also noted in her letter that officials at the Ministry of Health had seven (7) working days following receipt of the letter “to release the requested information to the Editor of Concord Times Newspaper…or give reasons in accordance with the law why such information cannot be released.”
However, more than a month after the letter was delivered, MOHS officials continue to be obstinate in their refusal to avail the information requested or give reasons as to why they should not legally avail same.
It follows after Editor of Concord Times, Abu-Bakarr Sheriff, wrote to the ministry requesting information about staff list at the Kenema Government Hospital in 2014, hazard pay structure, budget requests submitted by the Kenema district health management team, and information about the number of patients in government hospitals during strike actions by health workers at the height of the Ebola outbreak.
Also, request was made for information “relating to the contract between the Ministry of Health and Uniworld General Trading and any payments made thereof, in respect of the procurement of ambulances by Kingdom Security Logistics.”
In addition, the editor wanted information on “Any and all documents relating to the construction of Kerry Town Hospital including, but not limited to, procurement minutes or any documents showing how CL Group was selected, correspondences with CL Group, bid documents/estimates for construction submitted by CL Group, evidence of payment to CL Group.”
Despite both requests – by the editor of Concord Times and RAIC – within the ambit of the Act, ministry officials have illegally and with gross impunity failed or refused to comply.
Reacting to the ugly development, the editor remarked that, “The refusal to provide information speaks to two things: a blatant disrespect for an Act of Parliament and by extension the rule of law, and a dogged determination to keep what transpired during the Ebola epidemic opaque and closed to media scrutiny.”
He added that while he was in sympathy with RAIC, which is one of the white elephant institutions created by the current regime to give a semblance of accountability and transparency in government, the chairman of RAIC and Information Commissioners should do more than just asking for more money if they are to be deemed a viable democratic institution.
“RAIC needs to do more beyond just the usual hue and cry about lack of funds; some actions such as regulations to give effect to the Act require political will and commitment and not just money,” he said.
He concluded that serious consideration is being given to bringing a private criminal summons against Minister of Health Dr. Abubakarr Fofanah and Information Officer of the ministry for their seeming disregard of relevant provisions the Act as occasioned by their failure or refusal to give information held by or in their control.