RTI Action Campaign raise concerns over flaws in new bill

The Right to Information (RTI) Action Campaign has highlighted what it calls “persistent flaws” in the report for the 2018 Right to Information Bill, which was presented to parliament by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs and Communications for consideration.

Addressing the media at a press conference in Accra, Chairman of the RTI Campaign, Seth Abloso said, “We had a stakeholders’ conference, then the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs and Communications moved to Koforidua to consider the bill clause by clause. We were invited to make inputs. Our surprise is that most of the inputs which we made there are missing in the report that the committee has presented to parliament.”

“I would want to say that, its inadvertent that it’s an oversight. That is why we are drawing their attention,” he explained.

Seth Abloso added that “Confidence in governance is enhanced by access to information; when we know what members of government are doing in our name and on behalf.”

Dr. Kojo Asante of CDD Ghana and a member of the Campaign, said they were oblivious of the many changes that had been included in the draft bill presented to parliament, especially seeing the good working relationship they have with the Joint Parliamentary Committee.

“Our close collaboration has so far borne some results. We observe from the report laid before the full house that the Joint Committee has rightly proposed amendments to the bill to reduce the application and receipts of information time from 28 days to 14 days,” he said.

“Similarly, they have agreed with the Campaign to do away with the requirement for an application fee and limit fees only to prescribed fees for reproduction. Unfortunately, in spite of these positive moves by the Joint Committee, the Bill currently contains provisions that if not addressed by the House will render the entire exercise meaningless,” he lamented.

The RTI Action Campaign contend that, the Bill in its present form will do very little to promote the core agenda of access to information if amendments are not made before it is passed into law.

The Campaign, in a statement, therefore called for some clauses to be deleted and others amended to give clarity and further explanation to certain provisions contained in the present Bill. In particular they asked for Clauses 12,13, 85 and 92 to be deleted while requesting changes to Clauses 3, 8, 9, 18, and 38.

Of the suggested Clauses to be deleted, the Campaign says Clause 13 in particular, gives limitation to the Right to Information Bill by providing exemptions in relation to information at the Presidency and Cabinet, among others including information held by public institutions.

They believe that public institutions have basic information, and therefore information from such institutions should not be exempt from the bill.

“This provision, if kept, fundamentally undermines the entirety of the Bill. First, the rationale for excluding such basic information is outside the limitations that the constitution provides (public interest including national security and public health and privacy).

Second, the practical effect of Clause 13 is that almost all documents in the public service will become exempt information. In fact if you keep Clause 13 you can delete all the public interest exemptions currently in the bill because they become redundant” the statement read.

Clause 12 on the other hand, provides exemption to information obtained from a tax returns or gathered for the purpose of determining tax liability.

According to the statement “payment of tax is a legal obligation and must be applied in a transparent manner. It is contradiction that this is the same state that seeks to fight tax evasion and illicit financial flows. That objective is not going to be achieved by throwing blanket over the activities of the GRA.”

Following the statement, the campaign launched a second 36-day countdown towards the passage of the bill, with hopes that the issues they’ve highlighted will be incorporated and changes duly effected in the final bill to be passed into law.

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