Uproar over failure to pass RTI bill into law

Posted: January 28, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Over five hundred people belonging to various civil society organizations yesterday took to the streets of Accra to mount pressure on the government to expedite action on the passage of the Right to Information (RTI) Bill.

Human Rights activist, Nana Oye Lithur leading the coalition in a peaceful demonstration in Accra on Wednesday

The demonstrators, under the umbrella name ‘Coalition on the Right to Information’- Ghana, led by Human Rights activist, Nana Ama Oye Lithur and an executive member of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Seth Ablorsu, later petitioned the Minister of Justice & Attorney-General and the Speaker of Parliament.

The RTI has since 1999 received the backing of various governments when it first reared its head in public discourse. In 2003, Government drafted the first Right to Information Bill to operationalise the constitutional right to information, under Article 21 (1) f, of the 1992 Constitution. After 18 years of the Fourth Republic, no law has been passed to protect and facilitate the enjoyment of the right to information in Ghana.

In November 2009, the RTI Bill received cabinet approval, thereby paving the way for it to be tabled before Parliament. But Parliament has denied ever receiving the Bill, after cabinet’s approval. As to the reason for the delay, no apparent reason has been communicated to that effect by the government.

But The Chronicle has learnt that the Bill has been gazetted and will be tabled before Parliament in fourteen (14) days.

Florence Nakazibwe, FOI Project Officer at the Secretariat of the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative told The Chronicle in an interview that one of the reasons of the coalition’s protest was to urge the government to pay critical attention to the RTI Bill, so as to ensure that when it is passed into law it conforms to international principles that govern freedom to information laws and enhances accountability and transparency.

“The expressed political goodwill towards the RTI Bill must also be reflected in the text of the Bill that Government seeks to pass. Certain universal minimum standards on a model law on RTI have been adopted by international bodies, such as the United Nations, include inter alia: maximum disclosure, limited exceptions for withholding information and the establishment of effective and efficient appeals mechanisms,” she stated, adding “these should form the standard upon which the RTI is premised.”

To her, the coalition was also looking at having a Bill that provides for an independent oversight body that will oversee the implementation of the right to information. She believes that the task ahead is a very huge one and, therefore, advised that “it shouldn’t be left in the offices of any government institution, but with an independent institution”.

The RTI, according to the coalition, fall short of the aforementioned standard and, therefore, believes that it cannot guarantee full enjoyment of the right.

According to Nakazibwe, the coalition was also looking at a Bill that will capture the right to timely information. She also told The Chronicle that the coalition was again looking at an affordable fee that needed to be paid to assess information.

Leaders of the coalition believe that the passage of the RTI Bill into law would be a giant step forward for Ghana’s democracy, but also demanded stronger political commitment towards its realization.

“The effective realization of the right to Information depends largely on the political will and capacity to enforce this law without prejudice. Political commitment is needed, most especially, at the implementation state of this law”, noted the coalition in its petitioned document to Parliament.

The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) is under pressure to honor its pledge to Ghanaians, having promised the people of Ghana the passage of the RTI Bill into law, in the run-up to the 2008 general elections, Petitioning Parliament on the RTI Bill, Seth Ablorsu tasked the House to undertake a thorough review of the Bill once it is tabled before them, to ensure that the legislation that is eventually passed will effectively serve the interests of the people of Ghana and in line with African Human Rights Standards.

The petition was received on behalf of the Speaker of Parliament by Alban Bagbin and Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, both Majority and Minority leaders of the House. Hon. Mensah-Bonsu expressed joy at the coalition’s position. Hon. Bagbin was also glad about the coalition’s effort to participate in the work of the legislature.

According to him, the doors of Parliament are wide open to welcome the coalition’s views in strengthening the country’s democracy.

The Bill, when passed into law, will contribute significantly to the economic, social and political development of the country.

The coalition is made up of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Media Foundation for West Africa, Ghana Bar Association, Centre for Democratic Development, Ghana Integrity Initiative, Human Rights Advocacy Centre, Third World Network, Institute of Democratic Governance, Trade Unions Congress, Ghana News Agency, Ghana Journalists Association and National Media Commission among many other institutions.

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