After many years of struggle, protest and agitation, the Right to Information (RTI) bill that was drafted in 1999 by Ghana’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) to promote transparency and fight corruption went through several reviews and was passed into law on May 21, 2019.
The law is to provide for implementation of the constitutional right to information from both public and private institutions for protection of the public interest in a democratic society.
It was a great joy for many Ghanaians, especially media outlets as it would help them operate diligently and responsibly in terms of transparency and accountability, eliminating secrecy within the governance of Ghana.
Journalists in Ghana believed greatly that the passage of this bill into law would facilitate the easy flow of information, specifically in accessing official government information. But the question now is: is that the case?
An Act that enables one to access information has many exemptions. Thirteen categories of information pertaining to major executive government personnel are exempted in the RTI Law. These exemptions include issues bordering on national security, public safety, private lives of people, among others.
As important as these exemptions may be, they are mostly abused by some officials who are determined to keep their actions obscure from the public. Should information be kept from the public in the name of not embarrassing one’s reputation? It is not acceptable to withhold information just because it would land public officials into trouble, as it makes the work of media houses ineffective in serving public interest of the country.
The RTI also requires an applicant seeking access to information to pay fees or charges approved by parliament in accordance with the fees and charges of the Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2009 (Act, 793), although parliament has not yet passed the legislative instrument to determine the fees applicable to request public information. This part may be reasonably understood, but is questionable. This is because it blocks the poor from having access to information which is their right to know.
Under the Central Act section 7(5), if a requester is a holder of the Below the Poverty Line Card, no fees or charges should be taken from him or her. How many Ghanaians have heard of such benefits or know the processes for accessing this? What about media houses which are in financial difficulties? They will not be able to pay such fees, and they will be denied the right to access information.
Another big question to ask is: are public institutions abreast with issues persons may have access to? Many public institutions in Ghana do not have the needed information to give. This may cause delays or not giving out information to media outlets and individuals accessing it.
It was the wish of many for the bill to be passed into law as it had been long-awaited. But it seems it does not meet the expectations of many Ghanaians; because if something is said to be ‘Right’, then it should not have so many restrictions – it should be very flexible in all aspects and accessible to all.
The writer is a student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism