Revisit Commencement Clause And Other Clauses Of The Right To Information Bill
The Coalition on the Right to Information (RTI) Ghana, the Media Coalition on RTI and OccupyGhana (altogether the “Coalition”) have taken note of Parliament’s decision to accept a new commencement clause that will technically activate the implementation of the expected RTI Act 2019 in January 2020.
Similar to our position on a proposal by Mr. Frederick Opare Ansah, Honourable Member of Parliament for Suhum, we consider the current amendment to the RTI Bill problematic and likely to cause unnecessary delay in the implementation of the overdue 25-year-old constitutional right.
The Commencement Clause proposed by the Hon. Leader of Government Business in Parliament, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, requires that the RTI Bill when passed "shall come into force at the beginning of the next financial year." The thrust of the argument is that government in the 2019 Budget did not make provision for the RTI and therefore have no resources to finance activities to be implemented under the law. The acceptance of the commencement clause brought the Consideration Stage of the RTI Bill to an end in Parliament, pending the Third Reading and eventual passage of the Bill.
We wish to raise two issues with the commencement clause. First, there are various ways in which the budget can be varied to make provision for expenditures not anticipated. The Ministry of Finance can use virements to reallocate money as well as make proposals for approval in a mid-year supplementary budget. In fact, the Honorable Deputy Minister for Finance, Mr. Kweku Kwarteng affirmed these options during a media interview with Adom FM on 14th February 2019. It is based on this understanding that the Coalition proposed 180 days for general implementation of RTI Act in a memo to the Leadership of Parliament.
Second, we find it worrying that the Bill has not proposed a defined schedule of what will be done between the period when it gets assented to by the President and the beginning of the next financial year. Having a clear transitional schedule or provisions
enshrined in the law has been the pathway that the countries of the World that were cited by Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu in his argument on the floor of House have taken. It is for this reason that the Coalition proposed that “the relevant Executive Agencies shall implement the provisions of sections 18, 19, 42, 50, 57, 78, 90 and other consequential sections within 180 days from the date on which this Act is assented to by the President”. This proposal was communicated to Mr. Kyei-Mensah Bonsu and other Leaders of the House on 5th February 2019. Therefore, it is disappointing that the Honourable Majority Leader did not even acknowledge our letter or engage us on this matter. As stated in our 4th February 2019 Press Statement, experiences in Uganda, Malawi and other countries show that if clear obligations are not set in the Act, there will be implementation challenges.
In addition to the commencement clause, we reiterate our concern with current draft of Clause 13. As it stands, it is inconsistent with the reasonable limitations imposed on Article 21 (1) (f). We therefore support the call by the Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, Mr. Ben Abdallah Banda, for a 2nd Consideration Stage in respect of some of these clauses.
We urge Parliament to ensure that we pass a RTI Bill that truly guarantees the right to information and not a denial of information. If H.E. President Akufo-Addo and his government are to take credit for the completion of work on the Bill then it must be for a credible RTI law that strengthens our democratic governance.
The Coalition will visit Parliament on Tuesday 19th February, and will meet the Hon. Minority Leader, Mr. Haruna Iddrisu, and leadership of Parliament's Committee charged with the responsibility of the Bill. We wish to assure the general public of our commitment to advocating for the passage of a credible RTI law. We urge our media and CSO partners to continue with the unflinching support given to the campaign so far, as we call on our Honourable Members of Parliament to crown their hard work on the Bill with the passage of a credible law.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Africa Office (Secretariat to the RTI Coalition) 0266862395/ 0244947606