A Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Vida Akoto Bamfo, has urged the National Media Commission (NMC) to exert pressure on Parliament to pass the Right to Information (RIT) Bill into a law.
She stressed the importance the right to information had on the democratic governance, and the need for it to be passed into law, alongside the Broadcasting Bill.
“The right to information is so important and fundamental to democratic governance.How can citizens in whose name and on whose behalf government exercises the authority of the state hold government accountable if they do not have the critical information that underpins government actions, policies, and programmes?,” she asked at the swearing-in of two new members of the commission--the Member of Parliament (MP) for Asante Akim Central (NPP), Mr Kwame Anyimadu-Antwi, and a representative of the Private Newspaper Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG), Mr Edward Elorm Desewu.
Responding to the appeal by Justice Akoto Bamfo, the MP was hopeful that the bill would be passed into law.
“As a member of the Committee of the Right to Information Bill, we are waiting for the bill to be put before Parliament again in accordance with the rules.“This time round, I am positive the bill will be passed into law,” he said.
In an interview with the Daily Graphic, Mr Anyimadu-Antwi said the RTI Bill could not be passed in the past because it was laid before the house late.
He was optimistic that this time round, the bill would come to Parliament early enough to be passed.
“We know the importance of the RTI Bill and the Broadcasting Bill to transparency in governance and promoting standards. It is, therefore, important to see them passed,” he said.
Earlier this year while addressing the Transparency International Regional Meeting in Accra on February 2, the Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, promised that the government would facilitate the passage of the RTI Bill this year.
“Our government has already made it clear that we will be passing the Right to Information Act. We will make sure a Special Prosecutor’s Office is set up to prosecute corruption and we will amend the criminal code to move corruption from a misdemeanour to a felony. These are just some of the actions we intend to implement this year,” Dr Bawumia said.
A long journey
The right to information is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the country’s 1992 Constitution and recognised as a right under International Conventions on Human Rights.
The bill is expected to give substance to Article 21 (1) (f) of the Constitution 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 bill was drafted in 1999 and reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007 but was not presented to Parliament.
The first attempt at enacting the law on the right to information was made when the bill was presented to Parliament on February 5, 2010. The Attorney-General, on June 25, 2015, moved the bill for the second reading awaiting passage in Parliament.
However, it lapsed as Parliament was not able to pass it into law before the fifth Parliament was dissolved in January 2013.
The bill again suffered the same fate in the sixth Parliament which was dissolved in January this year after the house had begun the consideration of the bill.
During the last embers of the previous Parliament, the then Majority (National Democratic Congress) mounted a last minute spirited effort to have the bill passed into law but it hit a snag with a strong opposition from the then Minority New Patriotic Party (NPP).
A little too late
Former President John Dramani Mahama, in his last state of the nation’s address in 2016, also rallied Parliament to pass the bill into law, albeit in the last minute.
The then Minority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, said the House in its state at the time might not be able to pass the bill.
“I’m still wondering whether in the dying embers of this extra time, this House may still find the space and time to work on the Right to Information Bill.
“We all recognise that it is a very important bill, but I do not think that it will do us any good…we all recognise the significance of this bill…nobody should have any emotions about that [but] we will pursue what is right,” he said.
The then Majority in Parliament, led by Mr Alban K. Bagbin, accused the Minority (NPP) of not showing ample commitment regarding the passage of the RTI Bill.
According to the Majority then, many MPs on the Minority side left the chamber in their numbers when the matter came up, denying the house the needed quorum to transact business on the important bill.