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20.03.2009 General News

Right to information bill ready

By myjoyonline
Right to information bill ready

The Minster of Justice and Attorney-General, Mrs Betty Mould-Iddrisu has met major stakeholders on the Right to Information Bill for their final input to make the draft bill more functional.

The draft bill spells out the qualifications and conditions under which one could access official information held by government and government agencies.

The bill which is geared towards reducing corruption and enhancing open governance in Ghana is expected to be laid before Cabinet for onward submission to parliament for ratification.

Making the final submission to the bill, Mr Akoto Ampaw, who spoke for the Coalition on the Right to Information Bill, said the body had identified some pitfalls in the draft bill which needed to be addressed.

These, he said, included the numerous and complex exemptions undermining the principles of maximum disclosure, and explained that although a sector like the security agencies could withhold certain information for national security reasons, not all information in their care affected national security.

On the expensive fee structure, he explained that this could be a disincentive to people seeking information and suggested that the charges should be limited to the printing of the document alone and not to include the time spent in searching for the information.

Mr Ampaw also recommended that an independent oversight body should implement the law and explained that if the Attorney-General, who is also the governments' chief legal advisor is made to oversee the implementation of the law, it would amount to conflict of interest because the public would be dealing with government agencies.

According to Mr Ampaw, other pitfalls are the long time frames which could go as far as 75 days before information would be given and requested that it should be looked at again to ensure that it was reduced to the barest minimum, because that could potentially undermine access.

He expressed worry about the limited scope of the bill that obliged only government agencies to disclose information and excluded private bodies that dealt with very sensitive sectors of the society like water, mining, oil and road construction.

He said these private sector as well as chieftaincy institutions have functions that have "serious impact on public rights and should therefore provide information on their activities to the public."

Mr Ampaw explained that maintaining all these lapses would mean that, "the bill does not conform to best practice standards and cannot guarantee full enjoyment of the right to access information being part and parcel of inalienable democratic rights of the citizens of Ghana and as such, must be reviewed and amended".

Briefing the press and the members of the coalition which included the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the justice minister said, "the main thrust of the bill, except the exceptions, were that a public officer will not be able to say to a member of the public I cannot tell you what you have the right to know."

She said the bill was intended to give substance to the constitutional requirements.

Mrs Mould-Iddrisu added that the bill which had been in the offing since 2002 did not limit its application to the public sector alone because there were provisions for the Attorney-General to extend its application to the private sector.

She said the previous government held various meetings with several interested parties and with assistance from the -Institute of Economic Affairs (lEA) and CHRI and other bodies the draft bill was put in place and added, "our government's quest to pass the bill is not in doubt".

She added that numerous meetings and workshops had been held to solicit views and aspirations of people to enrich and make it "a bill of the people for the people".

Story by Malik Abass Daabu