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01.04.2019 Feature Article

RTI BILL: The Bill That Stayed Too Long In The Oven

RTI BILL: The Bill That Stayed Too Long In The Oven

The debate is no more about how long the Right To Information (RTI) Bill was kept at the back burner. Why,? Because we all know, it took awful 19 years in the oven.

It is not about when the Act will be outdoored.

Again it's not about who did what and how much contribution perhaps, A or B provided in its passage.

Did I hear someone howling?

Yes, someone is playing the 'credit card'.

The question of who gets what or the credit for this landmark bill is being played out there.

And the individual argues that no one (referring to the NPP and NDC) must be given the ctedit.

Is that true though?

Well, I beg to differ. Fact is, someone introduced it sometime 1999 or year 2000 amid feet dragging in the years that followed.

Until Tuesday the 26th of March 2019, when we witnessed its final passage.

So, in as much as I commend the sixth Parliament (Majority and Minority) for bringing this bill to fruition, I think the governing NPP deservedly needs to be praised and given the ctedit. Equally to be commended here are the civil society organisations and the media.

The Bill is awaiting Presidential Assent and it's expected to become law inJanuary 2020.

That sounds great but again, that doesn't seem to be the ultimate expectation of many Ghanaians.

What appears to be an enigma , first is this question: How much information will be available to the people?

Will public authorities give requesters the right to information without any excuses?

And will government impose sanctions on those who may wilfully act to undermine the right to information including through the unauthorised destruction of information?

Of course we (the people) didn't go to bed last night fantasizing, everything will be cool and smooth. That there will be no worries, no frustrations and no stumbling blocks on our way tomorrow. We know that for sure. But we're also hopeful and optimistic that things will get better and our democracy will grow stronger. We expect our institutions to see similar growth when the RTI law is in full operation.

The act is to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information to citizens to secure access to information under the control of public officials in order to provide transparency.

Talking about transparency, this element has denied us over the years as a people. Public office holders declare their assets every four years, yet that information remains secret to them and solely them.

Will public authorities give full disclosures now without withholding them?

Daniel Schorr said this and I quote:

"I have no doubt the nation has suffered more from undue secrecy than from undue disclosure. The government takes good care of itself."

"Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship."

You know there comes a time that even those you once deemed as major critics or enemies to the Right To Iinformation (RTI) Bill would join the pro- RTI group to say this is not enough and there have to be a better way of doing things.

There's need to ensure that we give the media and the people an unfettered access to information, they will cry on your behalf.

Thank God today, both the Minority and Majority in Parliament appear to be on the same page in conjunction with civil society groups, the media and other stakeholders to re-look the following clauses in the bill-- 2, 13, 18, and 41.

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,"

United Nations, Declaration of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the Media Coalition on the Right To Information (RTI) has welcomed the passage of the Bill, albeit with some reservations. It is unhappy the way things turned out.

According to the spokesman Parliament should have considered the ‘last minute’ proposed amendments by the Coalition and other interested groups.

“We were disappointed that final suggestions that we were making to the Bill were not accepted because the way Clause 13 is in its current state is very ambiguous and could be exploited to exempt a lot of information that could be of use to Ghanaians,” Mr Clement Akoloh, a Steering Committee Member of the Coalition, told the Ghanaian Times.

“With the way things happened in the chamber prior to the passage, we felt that there was no need to hasten the passage of the Bill.

“Now that we all know that implementation takes effect in January 2020, we thought that there was enough time to deal with the Clause 13 in particular which deals with our reservations about the Act in its current form,” he added.

On Tuesday Parliament passed the RTI amidst drama as the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, sought to arrest the third reading prior to the passage to allow for a second consideration.

His action, he said, was in solidarity with civil society organisations who wanted clauses 2, 13, 18 and 41 relooked.

Clause 13, the focal point of the Coalition’s concerns states that “information is exempt from disclosure where the disclosure will reveal (a) an opinion or advice (b) a recommendation, consultation or deliberation made to public institutions is likely to undermine the deliberative process in that public institution.”

This, Mr Akoloh said was problematic and leaves a lacuna in the law which could be exploited by public office holders.

Will the Coalition gets amendments it is seeking ?

That remains to be seen.

For now it's unclear how soon an amendment will be brought to the House for deliberation.

According to Clement Akoloh the Coalition would not renege on its advocacy as it intends to bring to bear another pressure on duty bearers to have their concerns addressed.

After two decades of non-approval, the RTI which now awaits Presidential Assent to be fully recognised as law will provide for the operationalisation of the constitutional right to information by the public and some private institutions, subject to conditions that are necessary and consistent with the protection of public interest in a democratic society.

It also seeks to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public discourse.

The RTI Bill was first drafted in 1999, reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007 but was only presented to Parliament in 2010.

It was brought back to the sixth Parliament but could not be passed till the expiration of that Parliament on January 6, 2016.

There was however, a wind of change in 2017. The need to get the bill passed was spurned on by the formation of the Media Coalition on RTI and other bodies which have in the past 11 months, put pressure on Parliament to pass it

Gordon Offin-Amaniampong
Gordon Offin-Amaniampong, © 2019

This author has authored 284 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: GordonOffinAmaniampong

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