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03.10.2008 General News

Coalition touches on the Right to Information

By The Statesman

The Coalition on the Right to Information has pointed out that the primary conceptual foundation for the right of citizens to information is the principle of sovereignty of the people.

They held that it is in this regard that the very first article and provision of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, Article 1 Clause 1 affirms the sovereignty of the people in these immortal words: "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 in the manner and within the limits laid down in this Constitution.'

Speaking at a symposium on the 'Right to Know Day' on Monday, Akoto Ampaw, a legal gem and Member of the Coalition on the Right to Information-Ghana, said it is the point that in a democracy, the government is simply an elected and mandated agent of the people, the citizens, who are the principals, and therefore it ought to be obvious that any information in the hands of governmental agencies or public bodies is by that very fact information that is held for and on behalf of the people by the government agency or body and therefore properly belongs to the people as a fundamental right.

Mr Ampaw observed that although the Constitution in Article 21(1) (f) guarantees the right to information as a fundamental human right of all persons in Ghana, "it is a sad commentary on our democracy that almost sixteen years into the Fourth Republic, our government and parliament have failed to ensure the passage of a right to information legislation.'

He pointed out that the first full blown bill was drafted in 2003 and has since gone through four or so amended drafts but is yet to be placed before parliament.

He said the passage of a right of information act would facilitate and give full effect to the participation of the people in the process of governance.

According to him, citizens can only participate in effective governance where they have all the relevant information about what is going on in government, adding that 'this will assure and enhance probity and accountability and secure social justice and the right of the people.'

Making comments on the state of the current bill as it stands now, Mr Ampaw said it meets international human right norms and best practice, except for a number of significant shortcomings that in the view of the Coalition, require further amendment.

He said although the bill generally recognizes the principle of maximum disclosure and the obligation of government to disclose information, these principles continue to be hampered and undermined by the manner in which especially the exemption provisions are formulated.

'The exemption provisions are in our assessment not uniformly subjected to the decisive harms and public test but the wording of the test is loosely formulated allowing for widespread discretion on the part of the giver of the information,' noting, 'others still simply do not have any harm's test at all.'

The Coalition further expressed reservation about the time limits within which information must be disclosed. It was of the opinion that it is unduly long, especially given the powers of further extension of the time limit provided for in the bill.

It observed that the timely disclosure of information is fundamental to the efficacy of any right to information legislation.

Another important omission that the Coalition noted the bill suffers from is its failure to take cognizance of the chieftaincy institutions as public, political institutions that ought to be covered by the bill.

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