The Right to Information (RTI) Bill was passed on 26 March 2019 by the Parliament of Ghana awaiting the President's signature. Prior to its passage, various stakeholders believed the delay in passing the bill into law was to allow exemptions of certain vital information bordering around government policies which is they intend to conceal from the public. This bill is to enable citizens to hold government accountable to ensure that there is a high level of transparency in governance of the country.
That notwithstanding, the right to information is not new thing on the continent. It was first adopted by Sweden in 1766 and Finland in 1951. Over the past two decades many African countries have also adopted the law indicating that transparency is an essential condition of democracy. Currently about 24% of the African countries have adopted the law as well. These countries include: South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, Guinea and Ghana. Meanwhile, Access to Information and Privacy Act in Zimbabwe was rather been used to protect information instead of making it available to the general public all in the name of privacy. As a result, it is not included in the counts of RTI laws sometimes. The Middle East has only three countries adopting the law (Jordan, Yemen and Israel) and it started in the January 2013. In Asia and the Pacific, sixteen countries have adopted the access to information laws. They include: Bangladesh, India, Australia, Tajikistan, South Korea, Thailand, Cook Islands, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, and Pakistan. Fifteen countries in the Americas and six in the Caribbean had access to information laws as of September 2013.
The right to information Bill is tacit in the notion that the Ghanaian taxpayers need to have access to information concerning what government does with their money and what government plan to do on their behalf. The bill is meant to ensure Ghanaians have access to official information from public offices on request and without request (Boateng, 2018).
We are all aware that Ghanaians have the right to information however, the Bill is meant to put in effect or extend Article 21 (1) (f) of the 1992 constitution of the republic of Ghana which states that “All persons shall have the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society.” However, many years of struggle in parliamentary debates and reviews had seen the bill not passed into law yet despite it was first drafted in 1999 by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and reviewed 2003. This is due to the fact that, most of the concepts defined by the bill wasn’t clear. For instance, the word “persons” brings confusion—was it used to mean Ghanaians and foreigners alike can have access to information? or only Ghanaians? This shows that we only rushed for the bill without taking time to draft it well and at the end, every clause is problematic.
Although Parliament has immensely contributed to the growth and development of democracy and good governance in Ghana since 1993 when the Constitution came into effect, it continues to demonstrate a lackluster commitment towards the passage of the Right to Information Bill (RTI) Bill since it has been lying in the womb of the House for about 20 good years. Does the Ghanaian Parliament need a Caesarean Section to pass the bill?
Article 21(1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution guarantees the right of all persons to information, subject to such qualifications and laws are necessary in a democratic society. The RTI Bill mainly seeks to give epithelium to the waiving article by providing for access to official information held by public institutions, subject to public interests and freedom of others.
We are all aware that, right to information is central to the active participation by all in the governance of Ghana and hence, only takes well-informed people, who have access to relevant data or information to contribute meaningfully to the good governance of their country. This simply suggest that, access to requisite data and information will, among others, reduce corruption and ensure truthfulness and transparency in governance. Ghanaians for several years have lost hope and confidence in their state apparatus and structures because the citizens are very oblivious about what these systems or structures are doing for them, most have lose touch for the politics of their own country and hence, they are in the country but do not understand their own systems.
Therefore, in order not to let an outsider tell us the history of our own country, they adoption of the RTI is very necessary because it would not only make it easy for the public to seek critical information on various issues affecting them, but would also help them to participate and actively contribute to national development. This is because, it has been observed that the various bodies in Ghana’s criminal justice system have not shown enough commitment to prosecute corrupt public officials, due to the fact that the structures lack the transparency to fight corruption.
Despite the foregoing benefits that Ghana stands to get from the passage of the RTI Bill, it has taken Parliament more than 19 years to pass the Bill into law. Parliament’s cold feet towards the passage of the bill raises several legitimate questions about its focus and interests. Is it the case that Ghanaian political leaders are dreading the kind of public scrutiny that they might be subjected to when the Bill is passed into law? The cause of the continued delay in the passage of the Bill by Parliament, could be the Bill's inherent potential to enlighten and empower the Ghanaian citizenry to seek answers and probe the activities of politicians at all levels of governance and also the delay in the passage could be associated to the politicization and the fear of politicians to be held accountable by the masses, who stand to be empowered by the Bill when finally putting into effect by the president.
If that is the case, then wherein lies their commitment towards transparency in government and the fight against corruption? Is it true that “the government will no longer have secrets if President signs the RTI Bill into law?” A Member of Parliament, Mr. K.T Hammond was recently reported to have said that and I would like to ask him: “Please what kind of government secrets are you talking about?” in Ghana, our political system is like a “Black Box” where our leaders give us plenty promises and take taxes from the citizens but we do not know what actually goes into all the processes adopted in serving the citizens. It is very true that, most Ghanaian only knew SHS is free but unmindful of how it is being financed, many citizens are aware that Ghana has lot of Oil but do not know how the revenues are being used for. These and many other information that are very necessary for the citizens and hence, the importance of the RTI.
A closer reading of articles 12(2) and 21(1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution and other relevant provisions reveal that right to information is not a blank cheque. The Majority Leader, Mr. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, this question goes to you: Did you say that you do “not want Parliament pressured into passing the bill?”, Well, what else should Ghanaians expect if Parliament still appears to be playing grandiloquence with a bill that was drafted in 1999? Is pressure not necessary whenever persuasion fails? I believe the growing mounting pressure on Parliament was a good Caesarean Section required to do the needful. What could have stopped parliament from passing the bill since? Or are we afraid to be accountable or transparent to our people? If our leaders trust their leadership, why did they delay the RTI from passing into law? Don’t we want to progress as a country? Why don’t they do away with the fear of giving out the necessary information to the nationals and build their hopes once again in our systems since it is their right.
It is necessary to stress that Parliament needs to place national interests above personal or political interests in its dealings with Ghanaians in relation to the passage of the RTI Bill into law. Ghanaians have since 1992 chosen to be ruled by law, not by political interests. I am not surprised parliament was reluctant in passing the bill into law. They represent their respective communities yet fail to even feed their constituents with the relevant information. Most Ghanaians think if the citizens know their rights, it would be very difficult to manipulate them and hence, parliament unwillingness to hurrying the bill into law.
Let me remind us that, right to information is not a mere political promise nor a populist political propaganda; it is a constitutionally guaranteed right and must be enjoyed by all citizens of Ghana. There is everything wrong with the motives of any pregnant woman who refuses to give birth when her time is due. Even more so, when she is resisting a Caesarean section (the use of surgery to deliver babies).
The NPP government is very lucky to have had the mandate to adopt the bill in their administration and we hope that, the government will make it work well to ensure its policy credibility. I only have a problem with the supervisory ministry for the bill. The bill should have been in the hands of by the attorney-general and minister of justice but putting it in the hands of the minister of information still means that, certain information would be kept from the citizens and hence, defeating the purpose of the bill.
Meanwhile, with the RTI Ghana shall grow, government would be efficient, corruption would be reduced and the citizens level of awareness in governance would be enhanced. Hence, our democracy would be strong again.
I stand for the interest of the people and together we shall make a change.
Issah Musah Aziba
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