The Chairman of the Right to Information coalition, Seth Abloso, has said that Ghana cannot fight the menace of corruption effectively if ministers still double as Members of Parliament.
According to Seth, combining the two duties makes it difficult for the legislature to supervise duties of the executive thus, making it dependent.
He said checks and balances must be operated without fear or favour, and therefore ministers and Members of Parliament must perform their duties independently of each other in order to effectively deal with corruption.
“We need to look at how our constitution is to be fashioned to promote good governance, because if the sitting president chooses the majority of his ministers from Parliament that is where the problem is. Parliament must do Parliamentary work and the ministers must do their executive work. They must be made to work independently in order to begin tackling corruption. We need to deal with passive corruption practices, because highly-placed individuals overlook corrupt practices and this goes a long way to affect everyone.”
Mr. Abloso made these statements during a media engagement on the RTI bill, organised by the Ghana Integrity Initiative Consortium as part of its regional sensitisation programme.
The aim is to build the capacity of the media to become good advocates and make proposals and amendments to the bill before it is passed into a law.
Seth said: “We decided to begin sensitisation with the media because the media are the eyes of society. They amplify our concerns for duty-bearers to give our concerns that due attention”.
He said the bill, when passed, will become a beacon of light because corrupt practices will not be able to be hidden, suggesting that the constitution must not permit ministers to double as Members of Parliament.
He added that: “Resources of this country must be distributed to every society. The Right to Information bill is not for citizens only: it is for everyone resident in Ghana. All exceptions, according to the bill, should be subject to the harm-test principle”.
During his presentation, Sammy Obeng of PNAfrica encouraged journalists to be proactive in joining the campaign to make sure the bill works. He said it is necessary for journalists to read and understand the bill and its different components in order to best practice it.
He noted that it is irrelevant for people to think the media will use it on politicians, adding that Information on public contracts and all other information should be available because public resources are used on such contracts.
Sammy added: “There are little things that we have discussed with the coalition, such as fees and the number of days involved in accessing the information. The information government is collating is on our behalf; we are the reason they are generating that information, therefore if someone applies for an information you don’t need to ask them to pay. If you need additional services, such as photocopies or scanned copies, then of course you need to pay; but if it is just for processing the information, then it has to be free”.
He noted that another issue brought to bear was the fact that an individual is expected to wait 14 days for information to be confirmed available, and another 14 days for that information to be released. He said it is too long a period and is one of the issues raised before the committee to be addressed.
Sammy Obeng advised the media to take the RTI seriously, because the media thrives on information. He said passage of the bill into law will make the media’s work easier and better.
“This will curb people from denying you information because it has become your right. Questions like ‘Who are you?’; ‘Who sent you?’, and ‘What are you going to use the information for?’ are asked – and sometimes after all these questions, you are denied the information. So the law is very important because when there are no guidelines, everyone does what they like.”
On his part, Dr. Kojo Asante of CDD Ghana noted that: “Last year, several bills were passed and presented to parliament. If this is so, then it means the same level of attention and urgency that was used should be given to the bills presented this year. So, it is my expectation that these bills – especially the RTI bill, as per the example of last year – will get passed; and that is why we are calling on the media and civil society to mount pressure and remind them that they had an almost-100 percent record last year, so let’s repeat it this year”.