By Stephen Odoi-Larbi
The Parliament of Ghana was yesterday besieged by the Right to Information Coalition group, demanding to know why the Right to Information (RTI) Bill has still not been passed into law.
“Since 2002, when the first RTI Bill was drafted, successive governments have promised, but failed to enact the required law that provides the explicit platform for the people of Ghana to enjoy their constitutional guarantee that states that ‘All persons shall have the right to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society’.
Why should this be so? It is unacceptable,” quarried the RTI Coalition group, led by Human Rights Activist, Nana Ama Oye Lithur, in a petition to Parliament.
The petition was received by Hon. Cletus Appul Avoka and Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, Majority and Minority Leaders of the House respectively, on behalf of the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Joyceline Adelaide Bamford-Addo.
It was the second time in twenty four hours that Parliament was presented with a petition from two different Associations, one pressuring Parliament for the speedy passage of a Bill, and the other pleading with Parliament to reconsider a ban on their activities, in order to make a living.
On Tuesday, February 1st, 2011, the Ghana Private Motor Cycle Operators Association petitioned Parliament to as a matter of urgency help them to regularize their activities, so that they can also earn a source of livelihood.
It is the second time in 13 months that the RTI Coalition has stormed Parliament to mount pressure on the government, to expedite action on the passage of the RTI Bill, the first being January 27, 2010.
The RTI has since 1999 received the backing of various governments, when it first reared its head in public discourse. In 2002, government drafted the first Right to Information Bill to operationalise the constitutional right to information, under Article 21 (1) f, of the 1992 Constitution. After 19 years of the Fourth Republic, no law has been passed to protect and facilitate the enjoyment of the right to information in Ghana.
In November 2009, the RTI Bill received cabinet approval, thereby paving the way for it to be tabled before Parliament.
But Parliament denied ever receiving the Bill. As to the reason for the delay, no apparent reason was communicated for the delay by government, until it was gazetted and tabled on the floor of Parliament on February, 2010.
According to Nana Oye Lithur, the Coalition’s demand was based on a promise the National Democratic Congress (NDC) made to the people of Ghana during the 2008 electioneering campaign, which is also captured page 24 of the party’s manifesto that “The new NDC government shall enact into law the Freedom of Information Bill to facilitate access to official information.”
The right to access information, according to the Coalition is a pre-condition to good governance and the realization of all other human rights and was therefore surprised that till date, the RTI Bill has not been passed into law.
“Access to information offers the key to deepening democracy and quickening development that Ghana is seeking. It lays the foundation upon which to build good governance, transparency, accountability, and eliminate corruption,” noted the RTI Coalition numbering over one hundred and fifty in their petition.
Commenting on the petition, after receiving it, Majority Leader, Cletus Avoka admitted that the RTI Bill was important, but pleaded for sometime, since Parliament is committed to pass it into law, but they are faced with some challenges.
“We don’t want to rush and pass a law that will not stand the test of time,” declared Hon. Avoka, in his response the RTI Coalition demands.
However, Mr. Avoka declined to give a specific timeframe within which Parliament would consider the passage of the RTI Bill into law, when he was pushed by Nana Oye Lithur. “Nobody can torpedo Parliament to pass a law that will not stand the test of time”, he noted.
The Minority Leader, Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu in responding to the demands of the RTI Coalition group said it was imperative that Ghana, which prides itself in good governance, should expedite action on the passage of the RTI, since neighbouring countries in the sub-region like Togo, Guinea, Mali and Nigeria have all passed their Right to Information Bills into laws.
He reiterated the challenges faced by Parliament in considering the RTI Bill in the third Session of the Fifth Parliament of the Fourth Republic of Ghana, citing the timeframe within which Parliament had to work on 25 Bills, some of which include the Petroleum Revenue Management Bill, Minerals Development Fund Bill, Renewable Energy Bill, 2010, Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2010 and the National Health Insurance (Amendment Bill), 2010.
“Practically, it is going to be very difficult to consider the RTI Bill’s passage in this session”, he noted. He, however, pleaded for “little space” to enable Parliament have ample time to deal with the issue at hand.