Free Press At Last!?
FMe nsre anaa me nsu? (Should I laugh or cry?). Twenty years of waiting for a Freedom of Information law seems ended. Yet, as some jubilate, others are not that happy, yet others are unsure as to whether they should be happy or disappointed. There is nothing near unanimity of: 'Free at last, free at last. Great God almighty we are free at last' (Martin Luther King). And it doesn't look close to: 'Freedom … at long last, Ghana, our beloved country is free forever' (Kwame Nkrumah). While some think we are somehow there, others think we are not yet.
I thought I would wait for Addo the 'tabler' or layer of repeal of Criminal Libel law to become Addo the assenter to Freedom of Information bill before I try some say. But the talking is all over. So let me try some while it lasts. My initial reaction was whether we would be able to let UN Declaration of Human Rights Articles 19 (21 and others in our own constitution) and 29 (41 & 164 local), work pari passu to cure information mischief. Our courts seem to have pushed Article 164 ahead of all others. That probably isn't helping us deal with corruption, although the honest few need maximum protection.
Improving practice has seriously been hampered by, suffered from unwillingness of those entrusted with public information to provide and release that public information in the public interest. I remember an allegation of someone stealing 33 million cedis from the state proven to have actually stolen 3 million cedis. Stealing is stealing – we all agreed. Yet, that is lower standard of reporting. The standard of true factual reporting would be an allegation of stolen 3 million cedis proven to be stolen 3 million cedis.
We could be fairly happy had it not been congress people who rule within the darkest of thought and action for self. Should they ever find themselves implementing this FOI, I can assure everyone they would never disclose any information they wouldn't want to disclose. Implementation will be by their whims. If you doubt that, check out the way they crafted the assets declaration law.
When it comes to implementation, I draw my faith from how the Constitution was operated from 2001 to 2008. If that group, which includes Addo layer and Addo assenter, or others like them ɔsonomma, were to be the implementers, I believe there would be reasonable application. But for the 1993-2000 and subsequently 2009-2016 congress people, it would be as good as 1981-2000, the dark days of culture of silence.
If you wouldn't agree with me, ask why they didn't pass the legislation 2009-2016. They were busily covering up judgment debt 'chop chop', SSNIT and NCA 'chop chop', bus branding 'chop chop', and loan contracting, including STX, 'chop chop'. There was no point, actually danger, for them to attempt granting any freedom to compatriots and their media people to rummage through the dubious paperwork that covered these nefarious stealing activities.
If we side cheerers are talking, why not the elite FOI warrior class. General Kwame Karikari has cautioned gloating over the passage of the bill by Parliament. He thinks it's early yet to claim victory and jubilate over it. FOI Warrior Wing Commander Kofi Bentil is of the ketewaa biara sua (too little, although he doesn't add too late) opinion. He swears to invoke the anthem 'and help us resist the oppressors rule,' threatening resistance 'to any attempts by politicians to conceal information to the public under the guise of national interest.'
Maybe Kofi needs to be assured that the 1992 Constitution ensures national interest is superseded by the public interest (Article 295(1), p. 183). Public interest is clearly defined as that which inures to the benefit of the general public. National interest is a vacuous nebulous term used by politicians to hide their inattentiveness to matters that concern the welfare of compatriots.
For me, any FOI that precludes disclosure of assets declared by politicians, particularly those who live 'chopping-ly' off state funds as a career, will be almost meaningless unless it would open access to information that would help to prosecute such people. Chopping is a killer malaise that FOI must help contain. It's virtually the root of corruption.
Two things could facilitate the new law's (when assented to) effectiveness. For one, sensitization workshops for our judges and prosecutors, founded on the basis that few of us put nation and its institutions before self, would help greatly with interpretation in cases that come before them.
Secondly, means should be found to release assets declaration. With FOI, double salary must show, judgment debt chop chop must show, and all other 'chop chops' must show. My sexagenarian and up professors are restless; they want to see action on all the 'chop chops anaapo' incorporated 'chopped'.
By Kwasi Ansu-Kyeremeh
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