The Minority MPs on the Appointments Committee of Parliament are demanding that Communication and Digitisation Minister-designate Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, provide proof to the claim she made during her vetting that Ghana saved $1.1 million a month as a result of the Kelni GVG deal.
The Minority MPs are also demanding proof that she did not close radio stations discriminatorily based on their political affiliation.
During her vetting, Mrs Owusu-Ekuful said she never targeted opposition FM stations Radio Gold and Radio XYZ for closure through the National Communication Authority (NCA).
The NCA took the action in May 2019 with the explanation that: “Radio stations operating without valid authorisations as determined by the 2017 FM Broadcasting Audit, are being shut down with immediate effect as enforcement action in view of the decision of the Electronic Communications Tribunal”.
It said: “Following the FM Spectrum Audit in 2017, some stations were found to be in default and were fined by the Authority. However, some of the stations in default were not satisfied and proceeded to the various courts; Electronic Communications Tribunal (ECT) and the High Court to appeal against the NCA’s decision.
“This resulted in a decision by the ECT in 2018 which reviewed the status of expired FM Radio Broadcasting Authorisations and which ruled among others that Companies whose authorisations had expired reverted to the same position as a fresh applicant. While some stations shut down following this decision, others did not.
“To this end, and in line with Regulations 65 (1) of the Electronic Communications Regulations, 2011, L. I. 1991, which states that: ‘A person shall not use a radio frequency without authorisation from the Authority’, the National Communications Authority (NCA) is enforcing the shutdown of FM radio stations who are operating without authorisation”, the NCA added.
The regulator continued: “It should be noted that as ruled by the ECT, submission of renewal application after the expiry of authorisation is not a valid application and, therefore, shall not be considered by the Authority”.
It said: “While companies affected by this shut down may submit fresh applications to the Authority if they so wish, these applications shall go through the required procedure for new FM Broadcasting Authorisation and the outcome will be communicated to the applicants”.
Answering questions regarding the closures of the FM stations when she appeared before the Appointments Committee of Parliament on Monday, 15 February 2021, Mrs Owusu-Ekuful explained that: “In 2017, following my charge to them [NCA] to enforce the law across sectors, not just in broadcasting, the NCA conducted an audit exercise which indicated that 144 stations had committed several infractions which necessitated that they be sanctioned. At the end of the exercise, 56 FM stations were closed down. Forty-three of those stations have submitted fresh applications for authorisation out of which 30 have been processed and granted new authorisation to operate. The remaining 13 applications, I’m informed, will be processed within the first quarter of 2021. So, by the end of March, the remaining 13 applications would be processed”.
She said the FM stations were first fined for their infractions for which some paid but others dragged the NCA to the court of arbitration.
It was ruled in that arena that the NCA had no right to fine stations whose authorisation had expired, so, there was a refund of the fines paid, she told the Committee.
She said the NCA, thus, elected to enforce the law by closing the FM stations whose authorisation had expired and “if the law doesn’t allow you to operate without a license, then you do not have the right to operate without a license and that’s what led to the shutdown of the radio stations. So, it was by operation of law”.
Asked if she targeted some stations, she responded: “Absolutely not”, adding: “To enjoy any right, you come to equity with clean hands”.
“But if the same law, which grants you the right to operate as a radio station in furtherance of the freedom of expression, you flout that law as a citizen of this country, you are subject to the laws of this land and the sanctions are applicable and we cannot by any stretch of imagination say when the law is being applied, it means it is an infringement on the freedom of speech”.
She stressed: “Mr Chairman, it is not possible for me to target any particular radio station for special treatment”, insisting: “Many of the names, I mean I had no idea of what the political leanings or ownership of many of these stations apart from the known ones and I think even the Chairman’s own station or the station he is affiliated with, suffered from this exercise”.
“It couldn’t have been selective or discriminatory or unfair. Unfortunately, in enforcing the law, you have no way of knowing where the chips will fall and, so, you work to ensure that you do it with a human face and I believe that’s what the NCA was trying to do when it imposed the fines instead of closing down the stations outrightly. I’m not sure they opted for one or the other …”, she added.
She said if Radio Gold and the other opposition station “hadn’t acted in contravention of the law, nobody would have touched them or targeted them no matter how much you disliked or hated them, you couldn’t touch them because they would have been compliant with the law, so, I’m grateful for this opportunity to clarify the air on that”.
“Currently, there are 625 authorised FM stations in Ghana as of the end of 2020. A total of 452 representing 72 per cent is in operation and 173 representing 28 per cent are not yet in operation.
Read the Minority’s full reasons below for suspending the nominee’s appointment:
a) The Minister-designate for Communications is required to provide further clarification on the criteria used for the closure of radio stations across the country.
b) The nominee is expected to respond to empirical concerns on the apparent discrimination against certain category of radio stations during the audit and closures of the stations.
c) We demand concrete evidence from the nominee on her claims that the Kelni GVG contract has resulted in monthly savings of US$1.1million.
d) The appointee must respond to lingering concerns about the seeming lack of sincerity in her apology to NDC MPs when she accused the group of taken leave of their senses in 2020.