by Mohammed Ali
The Right to Information (RTI) Bill currently being considered by the government was described by civil-society advocacy groups as, woefully inadequate at a media workshop held in Accra last week.
Civil society groups explained that the bill lacked the necessary provisions to make for effective implementation and that passing the present bill as it is would hamper and defeat its original purpose.
Speaking on the bill, Mina Mensah, the Africa regional coordinator for the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) said,“The current bill is such that the first things you see are the exemptions. Is this a bill that is supposed to tell us what we are not allowed or a bill that is supposed to encourage us (to seek information)? The exemptions are too broad, and something should be done about it.”
She said that the bill is a deterrent to accessing information. “We will rather not have a bill rather than to have this particular bill,” she said.
If there is no amendment to the bill, “then there is no point in passing this bill into law.”
She made this statements at a right to information media workshop organized by the Economy of Ghana Network (EGN). The workshop brought together many media personnel, as well as, civil-society groups to deliberate on the current state of the bill, which the minister of information said, has been approved by cabinet and sent to parliament for consideration.
Expressing similar dissatisfaction about the bill, the executive secretary of the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC), Florence Dennis, said that quality of information is very key and therefore, “There is a need to ensure citizens have access to information which they can use for social accountability and be able to hold the government accountable. If you don’t have information, you are more or less handicapped in a way. So access to information enhances transparency and accountability.”
Victor Brobbey of Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) said, “The argument for this law is the openness and transparency . . . (which) are vital for the success of any government. The more we have access to information, the less likely corruption is to occur.”
Mr Brobbey suggested that government institutions are afraid of light being shone on their activities. “Public institutions throughout the country are not transparent enough, and this leads to disinclination against the RTI bill.” He said that the exemptions in the RTI bill should not be seen in a democratic society like Ghana.
Commenting on the issue, the Minister for Information and Media Relations, Mahama Ayariga responded that government is already free and open. “There is quite an elaborate Constitutional arrangement for making sure information about public affairs is freely accessible from the public institutionally,” he said at the workshop.
As evidence of the openness of government, he said an executive decision has to go through Parliament to seek approval. “The executive must present a request to parliament, and when that happens, it becomes a public record, and everybody can have access to it.”
In addition, he said that in order to ensure greater and more effective access to information, many government agencies are now setting up websites to make information easily accessible to the public. He said, he is hopeful that access to information by the public would become a legal obligation once the law is passed.
The right to information is enshrined in the Constitution of Ghana under Article 21, which says that all persons shall have the right to information subject to such qualifications as are necessary in a democratic society.