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General News | Jul 5, 2004

Lack of info is dangerous to political stability - Speaker

GNA

Accra, July 5, GNA- The Speaker Peter Ala Adjetey on Monday said the denial of free access to information had contributed partly to the cycle of political instability and stagnant economic development in many parts of the world.

He said the debate that government determines the kind of information to be placed on the table for public consumption in many parts of the world should be a thing of the past. "It is indeed sad that the conduct of government business in all parts of the world remains unnecessarily, highly secretive in the wake of increased openness created by civil society all over the world," the Speaker added.

He was opening a five-day workshop on access to information organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and the World Bank Institute in Accra.

Some 25 delegates from Nigeria, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana and other Commonwealth countries are attending the workshop. The delegates are part of the study group that would submit proposals to parliaments on ways to improve access to information. Mr Ala Adjetey noted that legitimate requests for information were met with all kinds of impediments and obstructions by government and public officials.

"Accessibility to information can be so frustrating that the media and other information seekers are compelled to resort to unethical means to ferret out information," he added.

He said it was an undeniable fact that information was a basic raw material of every legislature and the non-availability of information resulted in the legislature not being able to play its role as a watchdog of democracy.

The Speaker said it was ironic that the required information that was needed to keep alive the legislature and deliberative functions of many legislatures remained and continued to be elusive. He said developing countries could not afford to remain behind in making information available.

The Speaker said the government was convinced of the need for more transparency in government for which consideration was being given to the enactment of the Right to Information Act.

Mr Alban Bagbin, Minority Leader, said since 1999, there had been attempts to improve upon access to information but these had been very slow.

He mentioned the State Secrets Act and the Oaths Decree, as areas, which needed to be looked at.

Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah Bonsu, Majority Chief Whip, noted that Ghana had made some progress in pushing the agenda of access to information forward through the liberalisation of the airwaves and the proliferation of newspapers.

He said there was, however, still more to be done in this direction.

Mr Shem Baldeosingh, Assistant Director at the CPA Secretariat, said freedom of information was an objective initiated by Commonwealth Law Ministers in 1999, but many countries were yet to achieve it.

"Our Study Group would make proposals that parliaments can consider in passing their own freedom of information legislation," he said. He said CPA in partnership with the World Bank Institute had designed the study to strengthen the institution of parliament and to enhance the provision of information to citizens.

He said free access to governmental information was among concerns identified as being vital in developing societies into fully informed and functional democracies.

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