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Can one dream of a nation free from corruption? Where there is no bias in favor of the privileged in society. Where the appropriate authorities are held accountable for their actions. Where the press is free to access timely and credible information for dissemination, whether it affects sentiments or critique the government. This may be too far-fetched a dream as thievery, unaccountable governance, sole-sourcing and ineffective participation of the public in the governance process seems to be the order of the day in the country. Ghana, cherished for being the beacon of democracy in Africa, has recently been rocked by corruption scandals as seen in the Bulk Oil Storage Transportation (BOST) saga, issues with COCOBOD and the allegation of corrupt practices at the Electoral Commission of Ghana to name a few.
One of the potent solutions to the numerous scandals of corrupt practices in our country rests in the hands of our leaders. Especially, the Executive and the Legislature to give us a good right to information law. This is because an effective right to information legislation promotes access to timely and adequate information thereby promoting transparency and hindering secrecy which promotes corruption.
The right to information is an internationally recognized fundamental human right to access information held by public institutions. In Ghana it takes its roots from the democratic principle that the sovereignty of the nation is in the hands of the people and on whose behalf the government exercises powers; enshrined in Article 1(1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. Article 21(1) (f) of our Constitution affirms this principle by granting all persons the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society. What are those qualifications and laws necessary in a democratic society that citizens’ right to information is subject to? This is why the need for an RTI law to clearly spell out those conditions. Ghana began the journey to enact a RTI law in 2002 and till date citizens are still struggling to push the leaders to do the needful by passing the RTI bill into law.
The Right to Information Bill is designed to operationalize citizens’ constitutional right to information. The right to access information has already been granted Ghanaians, what Ghana needs now ‘’is a law that will spell out the modalities for enjoying this right”, the RTI Coalition said. Should the bill be passed, all persons can request for information, except specified exempt information from public institutions. This would allow for a good foundation to be laid upon which to build good governance, accountability, transparency and participation.
In addition, the Bill provides for the proactive disclosure of certain pertinent information that the public may not have requested for. Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States of America once said that “Information is the currency of democracy”. The passage of Ghana’s right of Information Bill into law will go a long way to ensure effective communication between public agencies and the people of Ghana, as well as lead to the realization of this fundamental human right by the people of Ghana.
Considering the undisputed benefits of a good RTI law, can our leaders ever be pardoned for unduly delaying the passage of the RTI Bill into law? Successive governments have failed to fulfill several promises to give Ghana a RTI legislation. The President of the Republic, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has recently called for the expeditious passage of the Right to Information Bill which he describes as long overdue. So the question is “if His Excellency is so interested in the passage of the Bill, why hasn’t the Executive sent it to Parliament for the process to begin”? Especially when the Information Minister, Mr. Mustapha Hamid has stated over and over again on several platforms that the RTI Bill will be passed this year. We are already 8 months into the year and Parliament is on recess, resuming in October, when will the Executive send the Bill to Parliament to enable passage? Are Ghanaians about to hear the same excuse of lack of adequate time this year too; that prevented the Bill from being passed last year? Are our leaders being fair to us? As the saying goes, “action speaks louder than words”. We therefore need action and not words.
As citizens, we bemoan the fact that lack of information is contributing to increased corruption in public places, but are we also pushing enough to ensure our leaders give us one of the major tools in the fight against the canker called corruption which is taking a toll in our development. We are stakeholders in the fight against corruption and one of the ways we can achieve results is to consistently demand for the passage of the RTI Bill into law. We cannot afford to sit on the fence and expect that those who we have given our mandate to will automatically be responsible in their actions. We need accurate and credible information to hold public office holders accountable. Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment.
Source: Elijah Yeboah (Intern) Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Africa Office