OccupyGhana® is deeply concerned that there do not appear to be any clear or discernible plans to pass the Right to Information Bill into law. Despite numerous Government assurances that the Bill will be passed “this year,” “very soon” or in the “next session” of Parliament, no clear timetable has emerged.
The inexcusably long delay by successive governments under the Fourth Republican Constitution to pass this law suggests to us that governments are simply afraid to pass a law that will help actualise a right that the Constitution has already given to Ghanaians. Unless and until the law is passed, Ghanaians are entitled to conclude that governments will seek any and every excuse to defer the passage of this law for as long as possible.
OccupyGhana® is gratified that the courts have held that the right to information does not require an Act of Parliament to be exercised. Yet there remain substantive and procedural impediments to the exercise of this right. The current ‘default’ position of government departments is to either refuse or simply not answer any request for information. This forces citizens to go to court every time they seek to exercise that right. This is unacceptable and has to be addressed to ensure a straightforward and low cost system for the public to be able to enforce requests for information.
OccupyGhana® therefore demands from the government and Parliament, a clear timetable for the passage of this law. This timetable should take cognisance of the commendable public engagement process for the Office of Special Prosecutor Bill, and set firm dates by which:
- the government will publish and gazette the Bill;
the Bill shall be tabled for debate in Parliament and
the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary affairs shall conclude its deliberations on the Bill.
OccupyGhana® expects that the Bill, when passed into law, will set out the clear parameters and instances where the government will exercise public interest privilege (this is the privilege that allows government to refuse the disclosure of a document or information which is against the public interest.) The current wide-bound interpretation of the government on this privilege is, in our view, the greatest substantive and procedural hurdle to the full realisation of the right to information. Any law that does not deal with this matter in a manner that eases the right to information would be worthless and not have been worth the wait.
OccupyGhana® proposes that the mechanism of a truly Independent Commissioner with the power to determine disputes over public interest privilege would be the single most straightforward means of resolving any current impasse over this issue. An Information Commissioner using a highly simplified and swift process with limited scope for hearings and procedural delays would address concerns about the conflict between public disclosure and privilege. Any disputes over the Commissioner’s determination may be resolved by the Court, on narrow grounds akin to judicial review.
In conclusion, the continued delay in passing this Bill, which is now 18 years old, cannot and should not be accepted one jot further by the Ghanaian people.
Yours, for God & Country,