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Major concerns over the Right to Information Bill

"Information generally serves to enlighten public participation, build popular confidence and promote democratic empowerment. "

Source: Graphic Online

Posted on : Thu 03 Apr 2014

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Information generally serves to enlighten public participation, build popular confidence and promote democratic empowerment. Access to information facilitates people’s participation in public affairs.

Implicit in the notion of access to information is people’s right to know what government is doing with the tax payers’ money and what government plans to do in their name and on their behalf.

In Africa and beyond, the right to access information has gained wide recognition as an indispensable feature of a functional democracy.

The 1992 Constitution of Ghana guarantees to everyone, under article 21(1) (f), the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws are necessary in a democratic society.

In 2003, the government of Ghana prepared the first draft of the Right to Information (RTI) Bill to give effect to the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to information. Following some degree of consultations with civil society, the bill was finally laid before the 5th Parliament on Friday, February 5, 2010. While the Coalition on the Right to Information, Ghana recognises that the provisions of the Bill are a fair attempt to meet international human rights standards and best practice, there are still eleven (11) areas that are in critical need of review in order to bring the Bill in line with international standards on RTI legislation.

Best practice on the right to Information Legislation

Based on International standards and best practices on RTI, the African Union (AU) has developed a model law which captures and sums up the best practices on RTI legislation. This first article introduces the fundamental principle upon which a strong RTI legislation is crafted.

1. Maximum Disclosure:

Maximum disclosure is the overriding principle of any effective right to information law; however, the Ghana RTI Bill is still weak on this point:

There is a presumption that all the information held by public bodies can be accessed by members of the public and that any restrictions should only apply in very limited circumstances. Every person, citizen and non-citizen of Ghana, has a human right to request and receive information; the government has an obligation to disclose requested information.

The government has a responsibility to proactively publish and disseminate key documents.

What The Bill Provides:

The current RTI Bill provides the following on the government’s obligation to disclose:

- Right to access official information see clause 1;

- Responsibility of government to provide information on governance see clause 2;

- Proactive disclosure: the government’s obligation to make information accessible without anybody requesting for the information;

-Responsibility of minister in respect of access see clause 3.

- Government agencies are to compile and publish information in an annual manual.

Problems:

• The preamble to the Bill falls short of emphasising the principle of maximum disclosure. Maximum disclosure is further undermined in the Bill by the following which will be analysed in subsequent editions

1. Numerous exemptions from clauses 5 -17, some of which are loosely worded and unnecessarily repeated without being adequately subjected to the harms test.

2. Unduly long timelines for disclosure

3. Cumbersome and rather expensive fee regime

4. Inaccessible review/appeals mechanism

5. Lack of coverage of private bodies.

Suggestions:

1. Maximum disclosure should be upheld throughout the Bill.

2. There should be a requirement for the manuals produced by government agencies to include their policies and reasons for adopting them. This will facilitate the peoples’ right to know government dealings as the basic requirement for a right to information law

Source: Right to Information Coalition, Ghana, March 2014.

A version of this article appears in print on page 40 of the Daily Graphic of April 3, 2014.

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