‘Parliament must take critical look at some provisions of RTI Bill’

BY: Emelia Ennin Abbey
Kojo Asante, Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement of the CDD
Kojo Asante, Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement of the CDD

The Right To Information (RTI) Coalition has called on Parliament to take a critical look at some of the provisions of the Right To Information Bill, which is currently before the House, to make it more credible.

The group, which has been championing the Right To Information campaign over the years, has argued that there are “persisting flaws in the Bill” and, therefore, called for the removal of some provisions from the proposed RTI Bill.

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Reading a statement on behalf of the coalition, the Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), Dr Kwadwo Asante, who is a member of the coalition, said: “it is imperative that the RTI Bill being discussed in Parliament actually provides and actualises the right to information not a denial of information.”

The coalition explained that it made the observation following the laying of a report on the RTI Bill before Parliament by the joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, and Communications on May 23, 2018 and the subsequent second reading of the bill on June 7, 2018.

Although they agreed that there had been positive amendments to the Bill in relation to the work of the joint committee, they added that “unfortunately, in spite of these positive moves by the joint committee, the bill currently contains provisions that if not addressed by the house will render the entire exercise meaningless.”


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Clauses

Members of the coalition said they were happy that the report laid before the full House by the joint committee had proposed an amendment to reduce the application and receipt of information time from 28 days to 14 days.

Also they agreed that the requirement for an application fee should be scrapped and limited to only prescribed fee for reproduction.

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To make the Bill credible, Dr Asante called for the deletion of a number of provisions including clauses 12, 13, 85 and 92 as well as the deletion of some words in some provisions.

Clause 12, which stated that information obtained from a tax return or gathered for the purpose of determining tax liability, was an exempt information.

Yet, the coalition insist that exempting clause 12 defeats government’s objective on tax governance and increasing domestic resource mobilisation which is a major indicator of the Ghana beyond aid agenda.

Clause 13, in parts, states that an information should be exempted from disclosure, if it would reveal an opinion, an advice, a report, or a recommendation prepared or recorded or a consultation or a deliberation held in the course of or for the purpose of making a decision in the public service which can reasonably be expected to frustrate or inhibit the candid and deliberative process of a public institution.

“This provision, if kept, fundamentally undermines the entirety of the Bill. Almost all documents in the public service will become exempt information. If fact, if you keep clause 13, you can delete all the public interests exemptions currently in the Bill because they become redundant,” he said.

Office of President

Clauses 85 and 92 which deal with primacy of the Act, according to the coalition, must be deleted and replaced with a new clause as the current provision was inadequate and must be addressed to avoid unnecessary litigation.

Parliament, they said, must also defined  ‘the Office of the President’ under clause five which states that information is exempt if prepared for the submission or submitted to the office of the President and Vice President.

That was because ‘‘there are so many offices under the Office of the President”.

They also stated that the word prejudice in clause eight and nine must be deleted while the word damage was kept.

On the proposal of the joint parliamentary committee for an amendment of clause 18 to require citizens to show an identification card when they applied for information, the coalition opposed the idea saying people must not be necessarily physically present to make a request for information as they could rely on technology to do that.

Also on clause  38, where the joint committee was proposing that applicants could head to the Supreme Court if they were denied access to information, the coalition said it was erroneous and suggested that applicants should first resort to the information commission for redress and then to the high court.

“Members of Parliament should remember that they are citizens first and politicians second. Passing a credible law that will facilitate the effective participation of citizens in the affairs of state, facilitate the welfare of citizens and promote transparency will inure to the benefit of all,” Dr Asante said.

Delay

The coalition used the opportunity to launch a 36 days countdown to the passage of the Right To Information Bill before the end of the current sitting of Parliament.

Launching the countdown, the Chairman of the RTI coalition, Mr Seth Aboloso, said the coalition would be monitoring Parliament’s consideration of the Bill every step of the way until subsequent presidential assent to the Law.

He said the coalition would also be sensitising the public and also embark on outreach programmes at the regional level in addition to media engagement programmes.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in his address on March 6 during the celebration of Ghana’s 60th independence anniversary, served notice he would give impetus to his fight against corruption by impressing on Parliament to pass the Right to Information Bill (RTI) before it went on recess.

The RTI bill was pioneered 22 years ago by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) which came up with the first draft followed by governments review of the Bill in 2003, 2005 and 2007 until it was put before Parliament on February 5, 2010.