Parliament and the Right to Information bill

“All persons shall have the right to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society” – Article 21(1) (f), 1992 Constitution.

 

The Fourth Republican 1992 Constitution of Ghana, and the Parliament established under it, is about 25 years old. The Constitution has vested the legislative power of Ghana in the Parliament of Ghana. This means that, except otherwise provided by the Constitution, only Parliament has the legal authority to enact laws, or sanction other persons (natural and unnatural) to do so on its behalf within the limits of the Constitution. Although Parliament has immensely contributed to the growth and development of democracy and good governance in Ghana since 1993 when the Constitution came into effect, it continues to demonstrate lacklustre commitment toward passage of the Right to Information Bill (RTI) bill. The RTI bill has been lying in the womb of Parliament for about 19 years. Does the Ghanaian Parliament need a caesarean section to pass the bill?

 

Article 21(1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution guarantees the right of all persons to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society. The RTI bill mainly seeks to give flesh to the foregoing article by providing for access to official information held by public institutions[1] subject to public interests and freedom of others[2]. Right to information is central to active participation by all in the governance of Ghana.[3] This is because it takes well-informed people, who have access to relevant data or information, to contribute meaningfully to the good governance of their country.[4]

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Access to requisite data and information will, among others, reduce corruption and ensure truthfulness and transparency in governance.[5] It has been observed that the various bodies in Ghana’s criminal justice system have not shown enough commitment to prosecuting corrupt public officials because the structure lacks transparency to fight corruption.[6]

Despite the foregoing benefits that Ghana stands to get from passage of the RTI bill, it has taken its Parliament more than 19 wanton years to pass the bill into law. Parliament’s cold feet toward passing the bill raises several legitimate questions about its focus and interests. Is it the case that Ghanaian political leaders are dreading the kind of public scrutiny they might be subjected to when the bill is passed into law? If that is the case, then where lies their commitment toward transparency in government and the fight against corruption?

Is it true that “Government will no longer have secrets if Parliament passes the RTI bill into law”?[7] Honourable K. T. Hammond, please, what kind of government secrets are you talking about? A closer reading of articles 12(2) and 21(1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution and other relevant provisions reveal that right to information is not a blank cheque.

Honourable Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu, Majority Leader of Parliament, did you say that you “do not want Parliament pressured into passing the bill”? Please, what else should Parliament expect if it still appears to be playing rhetoric with a bill that was drafted in 1999? Is pressure not necessary whenever persuasion fails? I believe the growing, mounting pressure on Parliament is the good caesarean section it requires for the needed to be done.

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It is necessary to stress that the Parliament of Ghana needs to place national interests above personal or political interests in its deals toward passage of the RTI bill into law. Ghanaians have since 1992 chosen to be ruled by law, not by political interests. Right to information is not a mere political promise nor a populist political propaganda; it is a constitutionally guaranteed right. There is everything wrong with the motives of any pregnant woman who refuses to give birth when her time is due. Even more so when she is resisting a caesarean section.

 

*The writer is a certified life and leadership coach, a legal academic, and a prolific author of 7 books and over 200 articles. Blog: www.richard-obeng-mensah.blogspot.com

Email: richardobengmensah@gmail.com            

[1] Memorandum, Right to Information Bill 2018, 1.

[2] Right to Information Bill 2018, 2,

[3] Ibid, n 1.

[4] Ibid n 1.

[5] Ibid n 1.

[6] Akoto Ampaw, “Not Enough Commitment Shown in Corruption Fight”, Ghanaweb

https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Not-enough-commitment-shown-in-corruption-fight-Akoto-Ampaw-697078 (Accessed: 1 November 2018).

[7] K. T. Hammond, “Gov’t will no longer have secrets if we pass RTI Bill”, Joy Online

https://www.myjoyonline.com/politics/2018/November-1st/govt-will-no-longer-have-secrets-if-we-pass-rti-bill-kt-hammond.php (Accessed: 1 November 2018).

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