Ghana’s lawmakers have up to November 15 this year to make a bold statement to Ghanaians as far as the Right to Information (RTI) Bill, currently before them, is concerned.
For close to a decade, the media and citizens have been begging the politician, clothed and fed with the taxpayers’ money, to do that which is needful. But that era is long gone. The good news is that; begging days are over.
‘Ya bre mu.’ Time up! We will no longer sit on the fence whilst you mess the system up.
We need a credible freedom of information law that will spell out in detail the qualifications that must be met to access public documents. It’s only particularly incompetent and corrupt public officials who would be afraid of the prying eyes of citizens.
The MPs with the support of the Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo led-government either pass the RTI Bill by the stated date or show cause why they should not be inflicted with punishment in the next general election in 2020.
I won’t settle for the last option if I were them because the patience of the ordinary Ghanaian has been tried and outspent. ‘Suro electorate.’
The media and citizens have made it abundantly clear since the start of the second half of the year that they are not ready to accommodate any more excuses from public officials. This much is evident in the work of pressure group, Media Coalition on RTI.
The journey toward an information free society didn’t start today. Historically, it has been some twenty-two years since the first draft of the RTI Bill was worked on and strangely but expectedly eight years when same was first laid in Parliament.
The end is still not in sight after so many years.
On its eighth anniversary, the RTI Bill is currently at the Consideration stage in Parliament. But that is no good news to Ghanaians. If you’re a student of history you will know that we have been here before, the very reason why we don’t need to rest until the Bill is passed into law.
It’s trite knowledge that an informed citizenry is an asset to any serious country that is interested in its future. An enlightened population has been shown, across the world, to serve as a check on the excessive use of executive power. They also provide credible input and feedback to government appointees.
But I don’t need to waste any more words on why we need transparency laws in Ghana especially an RTI law. If as a government appointee or lawmaker you’re still not clear in your mind why the citizens need access to public information, then your very intelligence and status are suspect.
It only means one thing; that you don’t deserve where you are. Perhaps, you may want to consider packing your baggage from the office and resign.
Access to information in Ghana has been very difficult, despite the right to same guaranteed in Article 21 (1) (f) of the Constitution, 1992. The challenge can perhaps be attributed to the absence of an express statute that details the type of information that can and cannot be accessed.
As a result, some appointees of both the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and New Patriotic Party (NPP) have often employed crude tactics to turn down requests for information by the public.
In the wake of the bus rebranding scandal in 2016, pressure group OccupyGhana requested for the documents covering the transaction between the Transport Ministry and Smartyy’s Management Limited, the company that undertook the project. The arrogance in public officials surged forth as the Minister refused to yield to the request. It took the intervention of the court to get the documents released to the group by the then Attorney-General.
The same thing played out this year when the Accra High Court ordered the Communications Ministry to release documents covering its $89million Kelni GVG contract to another pressure group, Citizen Ghana Movement. The group is in court challenging the validity of the contract, arguing it violated the Public Financial Management Act, 2016 (Act 921).
The incontrovertible fact from the above is that some appointees of both the NDC and NPP have been opposed to the RTI Bill in one way or the other from the very first day. And the fact that some of them are now making public their opposition should not come as a surprise to us. Not at all. In fact, it is to be expected because some Ghanaians have proven to be more corrupt than the word.
This explains why the opposition by the Adansi Asokwa MP, K.T Hammond is not a novelty. He’s at liberty to disagree. It’s apparent that the lawmaker desperately needs attention to shore up his dwindling political fortune and we naively accorded him that.
We need to learn to ignore such attention seekers going forward if we want to maintain the big picture in sight and to actually get the Bill passed. Let’s make this commitment and the prize would be ours for the taking.
For we’re convinced that transparency in government rests on the principle that citizens will have an unobstructed access to information regarding the activities of their public officials. This we must strive toward and achieve.
Credible RTI law now!
Kwabena Brakopowers is a journalist, novelist, and essayist whose works focus on politics, migration, social situation, economic and environmental issues. He spends his time writing either in Accra or Monrovia, where he calls his second home. He could be reached at Brakomen@outlook.com or visit www.brakopowers.com to read about him.