There is, however, one piece of the anti-corruption framework that is yet to be put in place: The Right to Information Bill….
After many years of hesitation, we intend to bring a bill again to Parliament and work to get it passed into law before the end of this Meeting of Parliament.”
Those assuring words of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in his 60th Independence address had prompted well-meaning Ghanaians to wave white handkerchiefs even before the birth of a law that had laboured for 22 years.
But what many Ghanaians may not know is that Akufo-Addo’s Independence Day assurance to get the RTI Bill passed was not far remote from prophecy and pragmatism.
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The RTI Bill was the brainchild of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), having initiated it in 1996.
The initiative was inspired by the refusal of the Bank of Ghana (BoG) to give information on interest rates, inflation rates and national debt to the IEA for “national security reasons”.
But the IEA Board Chairman, Dr Charles Mensa, thinks the “national security reasons” were unfounded, wondering why the BoG would provide such information to international bodies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, but deny citizens of Ghana same.
“So we started asking questions about what could be done to compel them [BoG] to give information to us,” he recalled.
The first draft RTI Bill in 1999 was under the authorship of Justice P. D. Anim, a former President of The Gambian Court of Appeal, who is renowned for drafting more than 30 new laws.
Although the draft bill bears the name of Justice Anim, there was a formidable force of great legal brains that pushed his pen into generating the piece of legislation (now with modifications) that Akufo-Addo seeks to deploy in his fight against corruption.
Those legal luminaries are B. J. da Rocha, Justice Charles Coussey, Justice J. N. K. Taylor, Justice R. J. Hayfron-Benjamin and Prof. Kofi Kumado.
When Akufo-Addo pledged his commitment to the passage of the RTI Bill in his maiden Independence address, he might not have known he was in a spiritual realm.
Three of the legal luminaries who engineered the RTI Bill – da Rocha, Justice Coussey and Justice Anim – were said to have “prophesied” that if Akufo-Addo ever became President of Ghana, he would pass the RTI Bill.
All the three statesmen are dead but Dr Mensa, who was with them throughout the conception and drafting of the RTI Bill, bears testimony of their “prophecy”.
“We’ve been waiting for Akufo-Addo for 22 years to come and pass this Bill,” he remarks in a tone drowned in heavy dose of emotion.
The RTI Bill had gone in and out of Parliament during the administration of all the past four Presidents under the Fourth Republic but it was not passed.
So after 22 years of wait, the spirits of da Rocha, Coussey and Anim might have been beckoning Akufo-Addo into action: “This is the time!”
As a former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, as well as Member of Parliament, Akufo-Addo must be very much familiar with the RTI Bill and its torturous journey over the past two decades without passage.
Prof. Kwame Karikari, a former Chairman of the RTI Coalition, a civil society organisation that campaigned for the passage of the RTI Bill, says with the consistent and outstanding record of Akufo-Addo in fighting for human rights and promoting freedom of expression, “I expected him to act on his words”.
B. J. da Rocha observes that secrecy is one of the most potent enemey of democracy and the best friend and protector of corruption, dishonesty, incompetence and abuse of human rights.
“In a democracy, the people are entitled to know fully the activities of the government and its agencies and department,” he submits in the September 1997 edition of Legislative Alert, a monthly publication of the IEA.
After 22 years of wait, Akufo-Addo has lived up to his character as promoter of human rights and press freedom, and also fulfilled a ‘prophecy’ of three dead legal luminaries, by bringing the RTI law to life!