What is holding the passage of the RTI Bill?
Accra, Sept. 30, GNA – It was all about buoyancy when human rights activists including journalists and civil society organisations, prompted government about the essence of the Right to Information Bill (RTI), to boost the national fervour to facilitate probity and accountability.
As the years roll by optimism is being downgraded into pessimism, and people who once believed that the passion for Government to improve on information flow to make probity and accountability possible are shaking their heads in disbelieve.
All hope is not lost though; some human rights loyalist can still see some dim light at the end of the long tunnel and so on Wednesday, September 28, the activists used a symposium to mark the 9th International Right to Know Day in Accra to renew their call to the Legislative Wing of Government (Parliament) to expedite action on the passage of the RTI.
The argument was so simple but forcefully clear. “The Bill had exceeded its stay in Parliament.”
The blame was laid at the footstep of politicians who lack the commitment and perhaps are entertaining some unreasonable phobia that the law would be used against them.
That is not all; there is also lack of effective pressure from the public and mass media on Parliament and the Executive to accelerate the process.
The enactment of the RTI Law would ensure openness, effectiveness, accountability, as well as individual's right to access government-held information on various issues including how the taxpayers' monies are being spent.
The Day celebrated on the theme: “Information as the Key to Development; Your Right to know,” is commemorated by information activists worldwide on September 28 each year.
It encourages information awareness through the celebration as well as challenging the barriers to accessibility by opening up the discussion of corruption and dysfunction within the realm of information dissemination.
The Day in Ghana is being observed under the joint collaboration of Coalition on the Right to Information (RTI), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC).
Mr Akoto Ampaw, Human Rights Lawyer and Member of RTI Coalition said the current inaction on the passage of the Bill, called for expanded education on its advantages at the grassroots level.
He however commended the consultations on the RTI Bill conducted by the Joint Committee on Communications and Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs between July and August this year.
Mr Akoto Ampaw noted that it was an indication of Parliament's readiness to take the Bill further for a second reading.
He urged members of the Joint Committee to hasten their report and be informed by the views expressed by the public during the consultations for informed discussions on the floor of the House when Parliament convened in October.
“More importantly we call upon Members of Parliament to seriously debate the Bill in the light of international human rights standards and best practices on access to information based on views gathered from the stakeholders who participated in the consultations,” he said.
Mr Akoto Ampaw enumerated some concerns raised by the Coalition including the time lines, exemptions, fee paying regime, advance deposit for information, lobbying of large businesses and Supreme Court appeal.
He said these challenges might pose a number of problems to access to information, provide the opportunity for abuse of power and prevent others from benefiting in terms of affordability of fees.
He suggested the institution of an independent committee to replace the Supreme Court appeal and an implementation deadline that impose implementation on institutions.
Mr Akoto Ampaw cautioned that care must be taken not to pass an RTI Law for its sake, but to pass a legislation that would actually promote the realisation of the right to information for all persons in Ghana.
Mr Leslie Tetteh, National Co-ordinator of GNECC, explained the critical role of information to the development of education in the country.
He stressed that lack of information at both the district and community levels in the country on disbursement of educational resources often led to gaps and delays in the distribution process, causing poor turn-out of students.
Mr Tetteh complained about lack of knowledge of basic educational policies at the district and community levels and advocated the strengthening of record systems at these levels and the translation of basic educational policies into some local languages for easy access, understanding and more effective education.
Mr Affail Monney, Vice President of the Ghana Journalists Association, pledged the Association's support for the fight for the RTI, and stressed that it is time the media put pressure and play a leading role in advocating the passage of the Bill into Law.
He noted that though it is not a solely media specific law, the media would benefit because it would grant them the power to demand for information to keep government on it toes.
Although it was unfortunate that the organisers of the symposium did not invite any member of the Executive or the leadership of Parliament, to explain the apparent inertia about the passage of the RTI Bill, all hope is definitely not lost and surely there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Further delay however will be dangerous and anachronistic to the good course.
A GNA feature by Nana Kodjo Jehu-Appiah