At long last, Parliament has passed the two decades old Right to Information Bill into law, but not without drama.
The implementation of the new law, however, takes effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year — January 1, 2020.
By the passage, Article 21(1f) of the 1992 Republican Constitution which states that “All persons shall have the right to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society” has been satisfied.
The law, set to be passed last week, was delayed following fresh proposed amendments by the RTI Coalition made up of civil society organisations and the media.
At the third reading, the final legislative stage in Parliament deep into the night on Tuesday, the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, sought to arrest the passage in accordance with Standing Order 130(1).
“If any member desires to delete or amend a provision contained in a bill which has passed through the consideration stage or, introduce any new provision to it, he may, at any time before a member rises to move the third reading of the bill, move that the bill do pass through a second consideration stage (either wholly or in respect of only some particular part or parts of the bill or some proposed new clause or new schedule),” the Order states.
In line with this provision, before the Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, the sponsor minister of the bill rose to move the third reading, Mr Iddrisu, the Tamale South lawmaker, moved that the bill be taken through a second consideration.
His reason was that the fresh proposed amendments to clauses 2, 13, 18 and 41, by the RTI Coalition needed to be looked at to address the concerns of the Coalition.
“My understanding is that the Coalition on RTI engaged the leadership of Parliament that they wanted us to fine-tune aspects of the legislation. So I do so in respect of that input they made and Mr Speaker, that is why the Constitution requires that public memoranda be respected,” Mr Iddrisu argued.
But the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, said his colleague had breached the Parliamentary Order because at the time he rose, the Information Minister had risen to move for the third reading, praying the Second Deputy Speaker, Alban Bagbin, to rule his colleague out of order.
The back and forth arguments degenerated into tempers flaring between the Majority Leader and Wa West Member, Joseph Yieleh Chireh, shortly before the Minority Leader made a u-turn by withdrawing his motion.
“Mr Speaker, let me put on record that these proposed amendments are new……and I do so [pushing for a second] in respect of that. The coalition says that in their view, we can improve the clauses but if it is the wish that we should shout that it has been passed, why not.
“I was doing this for and on behalf of the coalition who wanted to see an improved legislation to ensure that this bill will serve a better purpose in combating corruption,” he said, positing that he has been a strong advocate of the RTI over the years.
But in a sharp response to Mr Iddrisu, chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, Ben Abdallah Banda, Offinso South MP, said the Minority Leader was creating the impression that the Majority caucus was not on the side of the coalition.
“Mr Speaker, the impression ought not to be created as if we are not with the coalition. The coalition has been with us right from the onset when this bill was presented to this Parliament,” Mr Banda stated.
He said before the consideration begun, the coalition had the opportunity to bring their “perspectives and views to bare” on the bill, adding that the proposed amendments by the coalition, championed by the Minority Leader, if not effected in its current form as agreed with the coalition “will not occasion any damage to the bill and on the basis of that we agreed that the bill be passed.”
After all was said and done, Mr Bagbin, the legislator for the Nadowli Kaleo constituency, put the question and a thunderous ‘yeah yeah’ swept through the chamber to pass the legislation.
In his remarks after the passage, Mr Bagbin who has been in Parliament since 1993, said the new law was the best of the right to information laws around the globe noting it as a legacy legislation of this Parliament.
Second Deputy Speaker Bagbin, a former chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, said though the country must not be proud for the delay, he was hopeful the law will ultimately put persons in authority to check.
Laid in March last year, the RTI Bill was first brought to Parliament in 2010 but could not be passed by the fifth and sixth Parliaments though the latter came close to passing it.
BY JULIUS YAO PETETSI