The Coalition’s involvement in the May Day celebrations, a public holiday that is marked in more than 80 countries worldwide, is the latest part of a protracted campaign to get the government to pass legislation which has been tabled since 2002. The Right to Information (RTI) Bill bring would bring into practice the constitutional right to information which was guaranteed under Article 21 of the 1992 Constitution and will allow individuals to access information concerning the governance of their affairs in areas such as food, housing, health care and education.
The UN holds that “freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms”. A voluntary disclosure of information by government creates a conductive environment for a functioning democracy as it helps to curb corruption and reduce speculation and rumour. The ruling National Democratic Congress itself recognised the importance of RTI in its 2008 manifesto and pledged that it would “enact into law the Freedom of Information Bill to facilitate access to official information”. Similar legislation has been passed in Liberia, yet 19 years after the advent of the Fourth Republic, and 9 years after the RTI Bill was first proposed in Ghana, parliament is still dragging its feet.
So what has kept Ghana so long? Lack of funds has been cited by parliamentarians as a reason for not holding preliminary regional consultations. In late January the chairman of Parliament’s Communication Committee, Felix Twumasi-Appiah, was quoted as saying that parliament was unable to afford consultations. (myjoyonline)
However these excuses have no grounding as the World Bank has pledged a reported $50,000 for consultations and video conferences to help parliamentarians learn about other freedom of information laws in Africa.
In a meeting in March 2011 between committees handling the bill and the World Bank an agreement was reached to hold the consultations during the Easter recess. Parliament was obliged to provide a plan of action and a timetable in return for funding. Easter recess began on the April 1st yet no timetable has been drawn up nor have any consultations been carried out. When Parliament comes back on May 17th there will be an 11-week session. Without the necessary preceding consultations it looks like yet another session will pass without a vote on the RTI bill.
The story of RTI in Ghana seems to be a story of false dawns. In September 2010 Deputy Minister for Information Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa was quoted by myjoyonline as having said that the government was committed to doing everything possible to ensure the passage of the bill. Similar promises were reiterated by the government at Tuesday’s World Press Day whilst minority Leader Osei Kyei-Mensah Bonsu has also said plans for passing the bill were in the advanced stages (feedominfo.org).
Time and again positive sentiments have not been followed up by actions and it is seems that there is little appetite from parliament to push on with the bill. Without RTI the executive will remain like it has since the period of colonialism; prone to secrecy and distance.
Commenting on the May Day celebrations, Jonathon Osei Owusu a member of The Coalition on the Right to Information said “parliament should stop the unnecessary procrastination and their attitude of commitment only in pretence. They are hiding their faces behind an alleged lack of funds. We need information for a free society and without RTI parliament is playing with the future of young Ghanaians”.
With the 2012 elections looming on the horizon it is essential, more now than ever, that Ghana’s democracy is safe guarded by making politicians more accountable to the people they serve. The RTI Bill will help to do this. People should call upon parliament to speed up the process in getting the RTI Bill passed and justify Ghana’s reputation as an internationally respected and progressive African democracy.
Henry Wilkinson, Human Rights Advocacy, CHRI Africa.many thanks to Toby McIntosh of www.freedominfo.org for his contined coverage of the RTI Bill