Ghana’s constitution guarantees every person the right to information and this was evident in a 2016 High Court ruling ordering the state to disclose some documents, even before the current RTI law came into being in 2019, following Civil Society and the Media Coalition for RTI, a pressure group that campaigned for the passage of the law.
Sadly, the citizenry including the legislature, are with the perception that the RTI is a tool for Journalists to scrutinize them, thus the implementation of the law remains a challenge.
According to the State of Right to Information in Africa Report 2017, more than half of African countries have adopted access to information legislation, yet the implementation of such laws still remains ineffective.
But here lies the truth, access to information laws are expected to empower individuals and civil society to understand the policies with which the public administration and legislators make decisions relating to health, education, trade and infrastructure and the basis for such decisions.
Nonetheless, the media especially has a key role to play in ensuring that an RTI law becomes a powerful tool for strengthening democracy and making governments transparent and accountable because of the influence they have on society as the purveyors of information about governance to the people and conveying their aspirations and expectations to those wielding the reins of power.
Their agenda setting capability requires that they keep the public informed and ensure that governments are held accountable to their citizens.
The media’s ability to uncover stories, interrogate facts and mobilize public opinion often makes them a preferred choice in the search for information that the public may not be able to access.
However, for the media to effectively perform this fundamental task, it is important that they adopt a policy of using RTI as a professional tool to gather research and solid documentation for sustained, robust investigative reporting on a wide range of issues.
Therefore, as part of efforts to assist the media to use RTI as another professional source for evidence-based reporting fact checking and combatting fake news , the CHRI in partnership with The Margaret Anstee Centre, Newham College, University of Cambridge with the support of the United Kingdom (UK) Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) India-UK Global Partnership Programme on Development is organized a two day workshop with selected media/investigative journalists in Ghana with virtual participation in Kenya on the use of RTI in their work.
The workshop forms part of an ongoing project on strengthening the implementation and use of RTI laws to tackle contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking in Commonwealth countries particularly Ghana and Kenya.
The workshop brought together RTI experts, news editors, producers and presenters of various media houses, both print and electronic media to exchange ideas on how to use RTI for evidence-based research which can help media organizations to run focused campaigns on issues of public interest.
The Director, Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI) Africa Office, Ms. Mina Mensah, in her remakes indicated that, the workshop was aimed to equip participating media representatives with the knowledge of procedures under their respective RTI laws for seeking and obtaining access to information from government and other bodies covered by such laws.
Again, to facilitate a deeper understanding for the participants about the manner of use of the RTI as a reliable tool for evidence-based reporting. And as well as to familiarise participants with stories of successes chalked and challenges in using the RTI laws as an aid to investigative reporting from other jurisdictions.
These according to Ms. Mina Mensah, will greatly complement propagating the agenda of SDG goal 7, to ensure that the issues of modern slavery is an ongoing conversation.
She therefore, charged the participants to apply learned lessons in order to make the workshop a remarkable one in years to come. Saying, “I hope we would have a fruitful lessons, would learn lessons,…. would apply ourselves to those lessons after we leave here,…..and come a year or 2 years from now in our review, we can say that this particular workshop was impactful. It has gingered us to use the RTI and it has made our works better.”
Mr. Zakaria Tanko Musah, legal counsel and lecturer at the Ghana institute of journalism, in his presentation on understanding the procedures for accessing information under the RTI/ATI laws of Ghana and Kenya, disclosed that,
majority of journalists in the country are yet to receive training to really understand the nooks and crannies in order to effectively use the law.
He emphasized on some critical concerns about how well the media and citizens understand the law and as well as how informed government officials are, with respect to their duties regarding the law.
Mr. Zakaria, therefore underscored the need for such timely capacity buildings for most journalists to have a better understanding of how the law can be applied.
A Veteran journalist Manasseh Azure Awuni, Associate Editor of The Fourth Estate on sharing experiences he encountered using the RTI, he intimated that, “laws in Ghana have the same purpose as ornamental plants, they are used more for decorations, and initial stages of the RTI law are showing same.”
He emphasized that, “Before the RTI, I had some experiences in doing some investigations before the right to information law was passed. And those in Ghana here may know of the GYEEDA scandal, that, at the end of the day we have two people who are serving jail terms. We had a law passed because of this investigations,…. we had about $20m retrieved directly from one company at the time.”
Manasseh, disclosed a whole contact sum of about $100m that was cancelled to save Ghana from paying about Gh¢120m yearly, for management which Ghana didn’t really deserved to pay.
He also mentioned the SADA scandal which involved misuse of monies to develop the Northern part of the country, and as well as the government’s ‘Ford Gift’, and robbing the Assemblies in 2017. “These were stories that made some impact, some directly, some indirectly. If you look at that robbing the Assemblies for instance, it led to the cancellation of a $74m contract that was fraudulently awarded to Jospong.”
Manasseh shared a lot of his experiences, both good and bad, and further charged all media practitioners not to relent but rather keep pushing the frontiers and with time, they will yield. Saying, “And when that happens not only will investigative journalism but every form of journalism being entertainment, tourism, sports, and any other form of journalism can benefit immensely from the use of the RTI law. Because in certain countries, just by having the right to information law, it makes journalism interesting. So let’s keep pushing until this law works.”
The 2-day workshop which took place on Wednesday June 30th and Thursday July 1, 2021 at the Royal Lees Hotel – Tutu-Akuapim, in the Eastern Region, witnessed great resource persons both in person and online like, Mr. Venkatesh Nayak, ATI Programme, CHRI, New Delhi; Mr. Sanjoy Hazarika, International Director, CHRI, India; Mr. Shyamlal Yadav, Associate Editor, Indian Express, New Delhi; Mr. Maxwell Kadiri, Senior Legal Officer, Open Society Justice Initiative; Ms. Ugonna Ukaigwe, Programme Manager, CHRI, UK; Ms. Ester Ahulu, Programme Officer, CHRI, Accra; who provided advice to participants for drafting precise and concise requests to obtain information for the purpose of investigative reporting.