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Ghana, still wavering on RTI front

Swapna Mohanty | Updated on: 6 February 2018, 19:36 IST

A transparent and corruption-free government is a prerequisite for any nation to flourish. And the Right to Information (RTI) is a sure ingredient to transparency. While the world over 100 countries have passed the bill and implemented the provisions which state that "all persons shall have the right to information” Ghana, a leading African nation, has been trying in vain to implement the bill since 1999. In a recent development, the Ghanaian Parliament has proposed a new deadline for its enactment-- July 2018.

India's RTI Act is ranked fourth best in the world. It is not easy to bring in transparency laws in any country and the long struggles of the leading lights behind the campaign for right to information legislation in India like Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and many others, vouchsafe for this.

To know more about the status of RTI the world over and Ghana’s long-pending bill, we spoke to Dey. “It is fear the of exposure and unearthing of the scandals which are seemingly holding back the Ghanaians from adopting the Act,” Dey noted.

“There is an RTI coalition that is working extensively to pass this bill. There has been a lot of effort and in the year 2016-2017, as far as I can remember, the bill was proposed to be introduced and passed in Parliament. However, there are a lot of scandals that exist in the Ghanaian Parliament. The fear of eruption of a series of such scandals has been a major reason for the delay,” Dey said.

A country that initiated RTI

Curiously enough, Ghana was the first country to initiate the RTI bill back in 1999. Now it has been left behind by many others. Countries around it and other countries in Africa, which appreciated Ghana in the past for its imitative on the RTI front, have now gone ahead to put the law in place.

As per the record, over the period of six-years, the number of countries that have passed the RTI Bill has increased from 6 to 21. Ghana's own neighbors like Togo, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Niger, and Guinea have the RTI legislation implemented.

This year, on May 2 and May 3, Ghana would be hosting ‘World Press Freedom Day' gathering and this has attracted some criticism. The Media Foundation for West Africa has been a long-term supporter of the pending RTI bill.

The Media Foundation’s editorial notes that it would be embarrassing for Ghana to host the World Press Freedom Day without passing the Right to Information (RTI) Bill.

Many attempts in the past

Despite a series of demonstrations on the streets of Ghana in the past 19 years, the RTI bill remains on paper. First drafted in 1999, the bill was not presented in Parliament for many years. Attempts were made in 2003, 2005 and 2007 to introduce it but failed. The first serious attempt at enacting the law was made when the bill was presented to Parliament on February 5, 2010. Unfortunately, the debate on the legislation failed to take it forward.

No valid reason

There has never been a valid reason for the failure of its enactment though a lot political blame-game has been doing rounds. While the majority group in Ghanaian Parliament accuses the minority of not showing commitment, the opposition holds the ruling group responsible for the delay.

However, it is obvious that the previous government, which was in power from 2012 to 2017, failed to fulfill its electoral commitment on RTI. In fact the then President John Mahama tried to pass the bill before the dissolution of the 6th Parliament but did not succeed.

Speaking at the Presidential ‘encounters’, President Mahama said he cannot force Parliament to pass the Bill into law. In his final speech, he said, “I can’t force the Parliament to pass it.”

Lack of willpower in new Government

Taking over on January 7, 2017, the new President, Nana Akufo-Addo promised the passage of the bill by the end of the year but he too did not keep his word. The new deadline to approve the bill by the Ghanaian Parliament is July 2018. However, even this time, there has not been any concrete commitment from the government side.

On February 1, 2018, the first Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei Owusu, suggested that the Parliament does not consider the Right to Information (RTI) Bill a priority provoking uproar in the House and outside.

First published: 6 February 2018, 19:36 IST