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30 August 2012 | Feature Article

Effective and Efficient RTI Law urgently needed for good governance

The Right to Information (RTI) is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution and is recognized as a right by international conventions on human rights.

Ghana's choice of democratic governance entails active participation by all in the governance of the country. In this participatory democracy, the Right to Information (RTI) is particularly relevant.

It is only when those who are to participate in governance are well informed that they can contribute meaningfully to governance. This can only be achieved if they have access to the relevant information.

Thus access to information requires that there is in existence the requisite data or information. It also ensures that there is available to the individual the requisite data or information to enable him or her demand accountability from office holders.

It is a fact that this realization of the importance of the RTI and the desire to ensure that there is transparency in governance, constitute the foundation for empowering the citizenry to contribute to the good governance and the rapid development and progress of this country.

The RTI, however, needs to be qualified in accordance with Article 1 (1) of the 1992 Constitution which categorically states that “the sovereignty of Ghana resides in the people of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of the government are to be exercised.

This principles is affirmed by Article 21 (1) (f) of the same constitution which grants “all persons the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society”.

Conventions on human rights, such as the African Charter on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provide guidelines as to the import of the RTI.

For Ghana's sake, the constitution in Article 12 (2) subjects the enjoyment of the human right provisions in Chapter Five to the rights and freedoms of others and the public interest.

It is widely said and known that information is power and power is access to information. Access to information strengthens democracy, good governance, transparency, accountability, economic growth and development, poverty reduction and last but not the least fight corruption.

RTI lays the foundation upon which to build good governance and check arbitrariness and corruption in public life and also promote grassroot participation in decision making and taking processes.

Research has showed that Ghana's RTI Bill since it was drafted in 2002, has been viewed with a lack of enthusiasm from political circles with the argument that Ghanaians are not ready for such a law owing to the following reasons: first, an RTI will be too costly for a developing country like Ghana, secondary all the needed infrastructures are not in place and lastly RTI will take time and resources away from government functions and thereby distract from greater priorities such as creating jobs, build schools and providing decent healthcare.

What politicians fail to see is that an effective RTI provides an enhanced and enabling climate for the full realization of other fundamental human rights. The RTI is closely connected with the right to shelter, water and basic infrastructure and the right to development as a whole.

It is for this and a number of reasons that the Coalition on the RTI has for since 2002 champion the advocacy for the passage of an effective and efficient RTI Bill into law to give legal backing to the constitutional provision of people's right to access information.

The coalition, a Non-Governmental Organisation, which has branches all over the 10 regions work to promote accountability and transparency and good governance through grass root democracy.

As part of its advocacy strategy, the coalition has produced a critic of the Bill, raised concerns about the bill which have developed into a brochure titled “Concerns on the RTI Bill”, and an Option Paper on the concerns raised on the Bill.

It has also through its regional networks create awareness on the Bill nationwide, organized press conferences to update the media and Ghanaians on the Bill, engaged with Members of Parliament and more especially the Joint Committee on Communication and Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs working on the Bill in the order to pass an effective RTI Bill into law.

Mr. Gabriel Gbiel Benarkuu, Brong-Ahafo Regional Chairman of the Coalition in an interview said the coalition's various engagements, it had realised the need to embark on focus group discussion in the regions across the country.

This, he said would enable the coalition to engage small groups such as Journalists, political party's communicators and opinion leaders to discuss latest development on the Bill, the way forward and increase support towards the passage of the bill.

Mr. Benarkuu mentioned that some of the group discussions had been held for community leaders, media practitioners, assembly members and, traditional rulers and civil society organisations in the Sunyani Municipality.

The irony of the matter, Mr. Benarkuu alleged the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the RTI bill has been acting contrary to promises made to Ghanaians both on public platform and discussions with the coalition.

He therefore stressed the need to increase grassroot pressure at the constituency level to ensure that the bill would meet the needs of Ghanaians in terms an RTI law.

A feature By Dennis Peprah, Sunyani

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Author: Dennis Peprah
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