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Turning a blind eye to the Freedom of Information bill

Author: Kwabena Agyei-Boahene
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

Information is power.

Freedom of information in every democratic country was hard-won and should not be messed up.

Sharing information in Ghana now has become crucial because it shows citizens how the government in power views and relates to them.

Consistently, the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has confirmed his preference for freedom of information.

He showed his enthusiasm by his promise to subject his government to public scrutiny.

On March 6 this year, the President renewed his promise to see to the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill in this country before the dissolution of the current Parliament.


The Freedom of Information Act (FIA), which is about to be enacted in Ghana, is expected to make it extremely difficult for any government that is in power to hide the truth.

It is supposed to enhance citizens right to information which is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution and recognised under the International Conventions on Human Rights.

This bill, if passed, will give substance to Act 21 (1)(f) which states that: “All persons shall have the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society.’’

The first attempt at enacting this law was made on February 5, 2010, but the then Attorney General and minister of justice moved it for second reading.

Throughout the eight years of the Mills-Mahama administration, the signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into an act became a problem.

Even after leaving government, the failure of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to pass this bill into law still remains an enigma to Ghanaians.

Apparently, NDC was less enthusiastic about the act when it was in government than it is in opposition now.

Currently, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), which hailed the act enthusiastically in opposition, probably seems to be uncomfortable with this noble piece of legislation, which can be a great legacy for the party.

Certain people in high position feel anxious about the implementation of this act.

Such people do not understand why issues such as government contracts, travel expenses, per diems and gifts received by public office holders should be made public.

But Ghanaians are no longer enthused with the verbal assurances given by both the NDC and NPP concerning the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill into law.

This is because the bill, which was drafted in 1999, has been in and out of Parliament over the last two decades after some reviews in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Therefore, any attempt to put impediments in the way of this act will be a sad blow to such a wonderful and laudable idea.

No deal (whether local or international) negotiated by the government of this country should be swept under the carpet.

Law

It should not be difficult for any government official to tell Ghanaians how many pens he or she used a year and the cost involved.

Nothing should be too trivial, too time consuming or too dangerous for public consumption. Rather, sharing information with citizens will be beneficial to the country in several ways.

First, it will make the work of government more transparent.

It will encourage greater accountability and transparency.

This clarity of information will definitely empower the common man and allow the public to trust politicians.

Second, it will bring about easy spread of information in the right way since it will become mandatory for government to provide information regarding any job done.

Third, and most importantly, it will help reduce corruption. It will allow government documents to be inspected by all, including private agencies.

Unfortunately, the FIA will also come with some disadvantages.

One is that, it will create unnecessary chaos as people will definitely be given wrong information.

Another is that it will create a burden for public officials because it will increase their workload.

The danger here is that there may be attempts to undermine the act through poor records keeping, especially at the local government level.

Again, it is feared that it will be abused by the media as it may be a means of finding sensational headlines.

Lastly, it may be hectic and time consuming.

At the moment, we do not know whether restrictions will be placed on certain types of information, either for security reasons or on the frequency of request from individuals and bodies.

But deliberately ignoring to sign this bill into law or delaying it will derail the progress we have made in this regard as a country.

We should be happy for striving to emulate the examples of certain countries in Europe and North America where official documents are made public.

The fact that public officials can be held accountable for their actions should help instil fear in them.

For instance, even a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, who initiated this act in his country, later declared that he regretted making the move.

But whatever the case, the time for this act to get into the heads of our public officials is now to help dispose of all negative impressions held by those interested in corruptible practices.

There have been so many campaigns in favour of this act to be passed by Parliament.

Therefore, under no circumstances should we turn a blind eye to the passage of this bill.

The Director for Advocacy and Public Engagement at the Centre for Democratic Development, Dr Kojo Asante, on March 19 called on President Akufo-Addo to fulfil his promise to pass the bill.

The President himself had constantly assured this nation of his intention and readiness to pass this bill to help deal with corruption in this country.

He has shown on many occasions that he is a man in a hurry.

Therefore, he should do everything in his power to hurry the passage of the bill to show that he is, indeed, a man in a hurry.