The First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei Owusu has disclosed that the Right To Information (RTI) Bill has not been laid before the House for consideration despite it being high among the expectations of many Ghanaians.
The MP for Bekwai Constituency was speaking to Kofi Oppong Asamoah on the Morning Xpress on Wednesday when he noted that the bill, when passed into law, will not make any difference in the processes of attaining information from government.
“It’s not different from any other bill. As we speak now it’s not before the House yet. . .As far as I’m concerned, it’s like any other bill. For me, if you ask me, the more critical bill that are still pending are the Property Rights of spouses and the Interstate Succession bills. These are the things that affect the everyday people,” he revealed.
Mr Osei Owusu debunked claims that the RTI Bill would rather make information accessible to everybody as been propagated in the media. To him, the constitution had stated limits to the RTI law, therefore persons especially Journalists who feel information is being withheld from them should seek a court order if the kind of information they want is of public interest.
“The right to information is guaranteed in the constitution. So that’s where the power is. What the constitution said was that parliament shall by law determine the limits. What that Bill is bringing is the limits so when it has not come, it is when at this point that there are no limits that you have the widest power to ask for any information,” he clarified.
He argued that Ghanaians are rather confusing with where the strength to get information lies when in actual fact, they can pursue any information to its peak if it is of public interest.
Citing the bus branding Saga during the erstwhile Mahama administration where Court ordered the actors to provide information regarding the contracts, he noted that anyone who wants information could go to the court and when it becomes necessary, such information will be given to them through a court order.
The Lawyer posited that the proactive part that will make information accessible to Ghanaians at all times after the bill is passed will be costly because of how the law wants information to be shared under RTI law. He hinted it will have to come with many infrastructure and training which will definitely be at a huge cost.
Why Parliament Couldn’t Pass RTI Bill
Although anti-graft campaigners have campaigned for the RTI Bill to be passed to ease the fight against corruption, the bill has been left untouched for more than a decade since its first appearance in the House.
Asking why the bill could not be passed in 2016 after so much work had gone into it, Mr Osei-Wusu noted that they could not have ample time to complete the processes before Parliament went on recess in 2016.
“We worked very hard to try and pass it before the end of the last parliament unfortunately we couldn’t. The reason is that when we finished working on it at that time, the Honourable second deputy speaker Was The chairman of the Constitutional and Legal committee a d I was his Ranking member. We worked with all the coalition and all the interest groups. We proposed a fifty page amendments to the bill. The number of amendments that were supposed to be made to the bill were fifty pages. That should tell you that if were going to go through it and amend them . . .it was going to take forever. There was no way we could do all that so a proposal was tabled the Minister agreed that we should withdraw the bill, incorporate all the amendments and represent it. Even that it was tedious but we drew it and brought it back”.
According to him when it came they worked on it at the committee level again where there were few amendments again but when the committee worked on it and brought it’s report, the house could not work on it because it was election mood.
“The house went into election mood and nobody was going to stay here and do amendments. After all we’re on vacation.”
He, however, added the bill would go through the normal process when it is brought to parliament again.