“RTI Bill Should be a Priority for Parliament”
5/10/2012 1:02:22 PM -
May 9, 2012
'Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated' -UN General Assembly, 1946
The Coalition on Right to Information (RTI) -Ghana a civil society group spearheading the campaign towards the passage of the Right to Information Bill in Ghana would like to express its disappointment at the statement made by the Majority Leader Honourable Cletus Avoka on Joy FM on Monday, May 7 2012 that 'the Right to Information Bill is not a priority for Parliament'. This is particularly worrying when democracy depends on open, accountable government and the opportunity for citizens to actively participate.
Article 1(1) of Ghana's 1992 Constitution categorically states that 'the sovereignty of Ghana resides in the people of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised.' This principle is affirmed by article 21(1) (f) of the same Constitution which guarantees every person the right to information as a fundamental human right, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society. It is amazing that the legal instruments that world-wide secure the right to know are the laws of access to information and their implementing regulations which, if we are to take the Honourable Majority Leader at his words, are of no priority to Parliament currently.
From the Majority Leader's statement, the legal frame work that gives impetus to people's right to access information in order to deepen democracy, quicken development and eliminate corruption, which is a scourge on the poor, is less of a priority as compared to other Bills such as the Bills on the establishment of the University of Health and Allied Sciences and the University of Energy and Natural Resources, among others.
We note that the NDC to which the Majority Leader belongs saw the importance of an RTI law when it stated in its manifesto for the 2008 elections in its declared crusade to fight corruption that it would 'enact a Freedom of Information Bill so the public has access to official information' when voted into power (2008 NDC Manifesto). We also recall that soon after the Mills administration came into office, the President himself, the Vice-President and several Ministers of State did not miss the opportunity to assure Ghanaians of the commitment of the government to ensure the passage of the RTI Bill into law. In the light of all these public commitments made to the good people of Ghana, it is shocking to hear this new tune of the Majority Leader. The Coalition would have thought that the Majority Leader would rather embrace the view of civil society and encourage his colleagues to pass the bill into law, without further delay. Are the people of Ghana then to assume that the declared commitment to the passage of the RTI Bill into law was simply an election promise and that the NDC had no commitment to do so but rather was simply pulling the wool over the eyes of the hapless citizenry for purposes of the 2008 elections?
It must be noted that the RTI Bill has been going back and forth from one government to the other over 10 years, and it is time for Parliament to connect the right to information to the daily lives of the electorate they represent and their right to development.
The Coalition emphasizes that a right to information law is a key element to development since its enables citizens to access information held by Government bodies, be it information on social, economic or political rights and as a result promote transparency and accountability. An access to information law promotes development because, citizens are able to access and make good use of government intervention programs as well as hold government accountable for its actions.
The question that the Coalition is asking now is how can a right which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic and is internationally recognized as underpinning all rights be of no priority to Parliament?
Also how can the NDC promise Ghanaians to pass the RTI Bill and after more than three years in power its leader in Parliament, turn round to say that it is not a priority.
The Coalition is therefore calling on the House to prioritize the RTI Bill and make it a part of the Agenda of the next sitting which begins from Tuesday May 15, 2012 and debate it and pass it into law.
We assure Ghanaians that we shall definitely make this matter an election issue, should Parliament fail our people.
The Coalition on Right to Information (RTI) - Ghana