Right To Information:A friend , Not A Foe

Mahama-Ayariga1The Right to Information (RTI) Bill since its introduction in Ghana, has been associated with a number of misconceptions by governments, private bodies, legislature and individuals alike.

While some believe that RTI law will promote the infringement of individual privacy due to its ability to grant access to all information including private information, others believe that it will tamper with the national security, benefit only the elite, and serve as a catalyst for journalists to harass government officials.

This, however, is not the case as the RTI Bill seeks to promote our constitutional right to information by providing access to official information held by government agencies and specifies the qualifications and conditions under which the access should be obtained.

It also categorically stipulates that the Act will be one to provide for the implementation of the constitutional right to information held by Ministries, Departments and Agencies subject to exemptions that are necessary with the protection of the public interest in a democratic society, to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs, and to provide for related matters.

This then tells us that the RTI law is not about private information, but rather public information and it will also set out clearly those information that are for public consumption and those that are not. It is worthy to note that the RTI law gives credence to the fact that though individuals have the right to information, it is limited to the protection of public interest and the rights of individual’s privacy.
Therefore, the law will not in any way infringe on people’s privacy but will rather clear any fog that prevents citizens from knowing what is happening in government.

It must also be noted that a study conducted by Dr. Kwadwo Appiagyei- Atua, a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana, for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, revealed that access to information is vital to the effective promotion of national security.

In the study titled, “Access to Information and National Security: Drawing the Balance”, he added that though in some critical respects national security may be enhanced by limiting access to certain vital information which may harm it if unbridled exercise of right to information is permitted, national security is, however, not fundamentally at odds with freedom of expression and information.
This to some extent shows that Ghana needs to stop focusing on the perceived negatives of RTI and look at the positive aspect which, to a greater extent, outweighs the negatives.

Let us as a country look at the fact that such a law will encourage accountability in government, promote good record keeping, reduce corruption, promote citizen participation in governance, bring about an open system where there is less mystery and also move Ghana to an enlightened society.

The existence of an effective RTI law should rather be seen as a friend of the country and not a foe. There should be nothing wrong with citizens being concerned with the on-goings in their communities and well-meaning governments should also not hesitate to respond to probes by the governed.

Parliament must amend and pass an effective Right to Information Bill without fear especially since most of them pledge to zero tolerance for corruption.

UK Prime Minister  David Cameron, in a meeting with President John Dramani Mahama and a number of senior ministers at No. 10 Downing Street on June 14 this year, 2013 spoke of the need for Ghana to deepen transparency and accountability in the tax system. This, I believe, can be achieved in all sectors with the existence of an effective RTI law. Let us deviate from the attitude of hiding things and rise up to build a corruption-free Ghana.

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible,” says Frank Zappa, an American composer, musician, and film director.
Antoinette Akoto Bamfo

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