Accra, June 21, GNA – Nana Oye Lithur, Executive Director of Human Rights Advocacy Centre on Wednesday said Ghana's democracy lacks transparency oxygen due to failure of successive governments under the Fourth Republic to pass the Right to Information Bill.
She said democracy thrives on transparency; therefore, open governance must be supported and extended at a practical level as an absolute priority.
“Recognising the right to information and implementing an effective access to information regime is a simple, but extremely useful, first step towards attainment of good governance,”Nana Oye stated at a National Stakeholders workshop in Accra.
The workshop was organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa, in collaboration with Ghana Right to Information Coalition and the Africa Freedom of Information Centre.
The RTI workshop was to highlight the Coalition's proposed amendments and seek the support of government, political parties, civil society organisations as well as the public, for the adoption of the proposals by parliament.
It was attended by civil society activists from Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria and Mexico.
She said the foundation of the RTI is in Article 21 (1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana which provides for Every Individual's Right to Information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society.
Nana Oye who is the Convener of Ghana Right to Information Coalition noted that key to the passage is that the Bill complies with international best practice standards that would enhance the full enjoyment of the right by the public once the law comes into operation.
Speaking on “Why an Access to Information,” Nana Oye explained that at it is the most basic levels, people should be able to participate actively in decision-making but this would be hindered if they cannot effectively access key information.
“Without access to government policies and information, media practitioners, government functionaries' opposition politicians and the public would have to depend on unorthodox means of information gathering, packaging and dissemination.
“In such situation, how can the citizens be sure that their interest is being sincerely protected? How can people be sure that money is being spent on the activities that the government says it is spending them on if they cannot see the relevant documents for themselves?
Nana Oye said the fact that politicians and bureaucrats are aware that their actions and decisions cannot be scrutinised also means that public officials can much more easily engage in corrupt practices that cost the country money and resources.
Ms Alison Tilley, Executive Director, Open Democratic Advice Centre of South Africa noted that Ghana has already ceded to tenets of Rights to Information by signing the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
“The country must therefore concretise its commitment by passing the Ghana Rights to Information Bill 2010, to demonstrate that the government did not just sign a document for the purpose of international diplomacy,” she stated.
The OGP aimed at promoting transparency, empowering citizens, fighting corruption and harnessing new technologies to strengthen governance.
Ghana joined 45 other countries worldwide to sign onto the initiative at the 66th UN General assembly in New York.
The OGP is a global effort to make Governments better institutions that empower people and are responsive to their aspirations.
Mr Akoto Ampaw, a Leading Member of the RTI Coalition highlighted among other issues that demand the attention of the Parliamentary Select Joint Committee in regard to the Bill.
He said in addition to the issues identified for the zero draft, “we believe there are certain provisions of the current text which ought in our respectful view, to be improved upon, or where there are omissions filled in order that the full objects of the right to information may be secured to the people and our Republic”.
On timelines for disclosure of information, he noted that it has been a question of widespread concern among stakeholders and was in particular a major subject of critical comment during the nationwide consultation of the Parliamentary Select Joint Committee.
“Unfortunately however, it seems to have escaped the review meeting as one of the critical issues that ought to be flagged for further consideration.
“This is because the timely disclosure of information is fundamental to the efficacy of any right to information legislation.
“Regrettably the timelines for disclosure under the current Bill are unduly long and are likely to have the direct effect of undermining this right.
“Currently, by virtue of the combined effect sections 23(1) and 26 (1) of the Bill, it may take 151 days, that is, (more than) five months, for an application for information to be granted.
“And yet this would be perfectly lawful! Neighbouring Nigeria's Freedom Of Information law provides for seven days for responding to applications with an extension of a further seven days.
“Liberia, which just recently emerged from a brutal civil war provides in its Freedom of Information Act, a maximum period of 30 days for every public and private body to respond to an application provided that this period may be extended only once upon showing reasonable cause.
“We are therefore, with respect, taking this opportunity to flag the question of timelines for the critical consideration of the Select Committee”.