Accra, Ghana
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent non-governmental organisation created to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth. We push for an adherence to the Commonwealth's Harare Principles and the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CHRI was established in 1987 after several Commonwealth countries voiced their concern about a lack of focus on Human rights within the Commonwealth organization. CHRI currently has three offices; in Delhi, London and Accra. The Africa office was opened in Accra in 2001 and is at the forefront of the fight to uphold basic human freedoms in the region. We work in three main areas of human rights: Human Rights Advocacy; Access to justice and The Right to Information.

Thursday 30 June 2011

Right To Information – a Necessary Tool for Democracy

Unlike in the UK and in Nigeria, which both passed their freedom of information bills after long periods of civil society activism, Ghana’s Right to Information (RTI) Bill is still stuck before Parliament. Whilst it is necessary that a strong bill, without unnecessary exemptions, is properly formulated, it is about time that we Ghanaians start enjoying the chunk of benefits that accompanies the RTI.

The bill, if passed, would give power to the governed to know what goes on in the public offices which should help to make governments more accountable. In short the RTI bill will help to create a fuller and more dynamic democracy.

Politicians should not forget that, they are elected to work towards the betterment of those they govern. They are not elected to suit their own whims and caprices. It seems politicians always want to take the electorate for granted, but they should not forget that the electorate are becoming more discerning day in and day out.

The current NDC government and their NPP predecessors have overseen a country which has been hailed internationally as an African democratic success story, yet both parties have done little to move the bill forward. Democracy was defined by Abraham Lincoln as; government of the people, by the people, and for the people. From this definition, one could clearly see that Ghana is government of the people, by the people, but not for the people, in that the voice of the majority is not heard no matter how high they scream.

Laws are made to be obeyed, if not they become useless, as stipulated in Article 21 (1) (f) of the 1992 constitution of Ghana that “All persons shall have the right to Information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society.”

In a democracy, the people are sovereign – they are the highest form of political authority. Power flows from the people to the leaders of government, who hold power only temporarily. As a result politicians must always remember that they are only the temporary custodians for the information they hold in trust for the people

Under a democratic government, citizens have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to watch carefully how their political leaders and representatives use their power and express their own opinions and interests.

Democracy can never be practiced to the fullest if there is no transparency, and accountability that is requisite in a proper democracy. The more they prolong the passage of the bill, the more the citizens conceive the idea that, politicians have something to hide, but no matter how thick a forest may be, the tortoise will surely find its way to its home.

Are Ghanaians safe if even in a democracy, they still cannot exercise their rights as citizens to know? Let us all rise in unity to support this worthy course, for it’s my right, it’s your right, it’s our right to know.  
Edward Balami, Ghana Institute of Journalism.
The Author wrote this article whilst on a two week placement with CHRI. See www.edwardbalami.blogspot.com for other examples of his writing.

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