Parliament has called for a review of the provisions in the Right to Information (RTI) Bill which exempt information from the Office of the President or the Vice President from disclosure to the public.
Clause 5 (1) (a) of the bill indicates that information is exemptedfrom disclosure if it is for submission or has been submitted to the Office of the President or the Vice President.
The clause further states in 5 (1) (b) that if the disclosure would reveal information concerning opinion, advice, deliberation, recommendation, minutes or consultations made or given to the president or the vice president, it would not be released to the public.
The bill prevents the public from accessing information from the Office of the President and his vice, which can prejudice the effective formulation or development of government policies and frustrates the success of a policy by premature disclosure of that policy.
It also exempts from disclosure, information that undermines the deliberative process in the Office of the President by inhibiting the free and frank provision of advice or exchange of views, or prejudice national security.
When the clause was taken through the consideration stage in Parliament yesterday, the law makers deferred the clause and urged the Attorney General’s (AG) office to take a second look at it.
According to the law makers, although they are not necessarily against the idea of making certain information relating to the Office of the President or the vice confidential, the provision can create loopholes for public officials to deny the public access to certain key information.
The Member of Parliament (MP) for Akwapim North, William Ofori Boafo, raised the issue and observed that government or public officials could hide behind the provision and prevent the bill from serving its intended purpose.
He argued that public office holders could deliberately deny the public from accessing information using the offices of the president and the vice as an excuse to hide information.
Mr. Boafo stressed the need for the AG to take another look at the clause and shape it in a manner that would not leave loopholes for abuse.
The MP for Bawku Central, Mahama Ayariga supported the call to defer the consideration of the clause to enable the AG to reshape it and tighten the loopholes.
“Although the intention of the clause is to provide sanctity to the advice and recommendations given to the president, some public office holders can deliberately label information as information for submission to the Office of the President or the vice so that no one can access that information,” he said.
The Bawku Central MP urged the AG to review the provision under the clause to prevent it from being abused.
Also contributing to the debate, the MP for Wa West, Joseph Yieleh Chireh, urged his colleagues to be mindful of the fact that not all information relating to governance could be made public as they pushed the frontiers of information that could be accessed by the public under the RTI bill.
“A government that runs without confidentiality is not possible. Running a state requires some information to be confidential else the state will run into crises,” he said.
The Minority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, advised the AG’s office to consider Article 135 (1) of the constitution when reviewing the clause.
Article 135 (1) states that the “Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether an official document shall not be produced in court because its production or the disclosure of its contents will be prejudicial to the security of the state or will be injurious to the public interest”.
Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu noted that the RTI bill should exempt information from the office of the president and his vice only when the content would affect the security of the state or be injurious to the interest of the public.
But the Second Deputy Speaker, Joe Ghartey, was quick to add that the AG should also define what constituted issues of national security when considering the Minority Leader’s submission because public office holders could still hide behind the provision and label any information requested as information with national security implications.
He said unlike Article 135 (1) of the constitution which gave a judge the mandate to determine what constituted information with security implication or injurious to the interest of the public, the RTI bill provided no one the mandate to make that determination.
The MP for Asewase, Alhaji Mohammed Muntaka, advised the AG to be more specific when determining information from the Office of the President that should be exempted from the bill to prevent people from going to the court often to seek interpretations.
By Yaw Kyei