The Coalition on the Right to Information Bill (RTI), says the failure by successive governments to pass the bill into law is an indication that they are “afraid of transparency and accountability” in governing the country.
According to Professor Kwame Karikari, Convener of the Coalition, “Ghana is drenched and being drowned in all manner of anti-democratic and unpatriotic acts by people in high public and government office”.
He was delivering the second public lecture in Accra on Monday, on the topic, ‘Delay of the Right to Information Law: Undermining the People’s Right to know and devaluing press freedom’ to commemorate the 2015 World Press Freedom Day.
The day was set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness on the importance of press freedom, and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Professor Karikari said “There seems to be a growing culture of impunity in this so-called democracy by people in public office and government who show little concern about the citizenry’s demand for better governance”.
The former Executive Director of the Media Foundation of West Africa said exposure by the media regarding ills in government, should not create the impression that there was openness in public affairs.
He said the critical information citizens would need to know from government and public office holders, was being kept under lock, to the detriment of the public.
The passage of the RTI law, he said, would not automatically usher in a new paradise of openness, but at least provide the citizen an instrument to make the necessary demands to know what was affecting their lives and well-being.
Professor Karikari noted that as with all other legislations, the onus was on the citizenry to demand for any information in accordance with their democratic interest and rights.
He said for the government not to pass “just any kind of bill”, the coalition had over the years worked with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to review provisions it considered inimical to accessing information.
“What we can assure our fellow citizens is that the draft, which we have finally concluded with the current Parliamentary Select Committee, as far as we are concerned, is good enough to enhance openness in governance and advance transparency and accountability in a republic that is drowning in corruption, widespread maladministration, bad governance and political bankruptcy,” he said.
He expressed disappointment at the silence of opposition parties regarding the bill, and urged the Christian fraternity, civil society groups, youth groups, women’s rights organisations, the media and professional bodies to join the call for the passage of the bill sooner than expected.
The Chairman for the occasion, Dr. Doris Dartey, recounted the importance of press freedom in building a stronger democratic state.
She said without press freedom and access to information, the country would live under leaders who would disguise themselves as democrats, with autocratic tendencies, and urged the coalition to speed up its work with the Parliamentary Committee to have the bill passed this year.
The President of the Ghana Journalists Association, Mr. Affail Monney, said the passage of the bill remained a key agenda for the association in order for the citizens to demand even more accountability from persons in public office.
The Right to Information Bill will be 15 years next month since its drafting, and has traversed all five governments (now the sixth) of the Fourth Republic.
By Julius Yao Petetsi