RTI is working …good to know
RTI is working. These were the words of Ghana’s Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah. If there is any law promulgated in Ghana that is aimed at ensuring pragmatic access to information by the general public, it is obviously the Right to Information law.
No wonder it is also the law that went through “turbulence” before it was enacted. The RTI ACT 989 seeks to promote transparency and accountability by empowering people to access information on central and local governments as well as non-governmental organisations, which are publicly funded.
The law provides for the operationalisation of the constitutional right to information held by the public and some private institutions, subject to exemptions that are necessary and consistent with the protection of public interest in a democratic society.
The RTI Bill was first drafted in 1999 and reviewed on several occasions for many reasons in 2003, 2005 and 2007 but was only presented to Parliament in 2010.
After months of waiting, the Bill was laid in Parliament in 2018 by the Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Joseph Dindiok.
The last amendment to the RTI Bill was in March last year and was proposed by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Okaikoi Central, Mr Patrick Yaw Boamah, changed the implementation ministry of the bill from the Attorney and Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Information.
The Minister of Information, Mr Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, moved the motion for third reading and was seconded by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament (MP) for Tamale Central and Ranking Member on the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini. In the end, the bill was passed into law in March 2019 and was assented to within 24 hours by the President of the land, Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
The primary object of the law is to empower the citizens of the land, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make the nation’s democracy work effectively for the people in a real sense.
The RTI is a law “to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities.
Again, the law now, is meant to put in effect, Article 21 (1) (f) of the 1992 constitution of the Republic of Ghana, which states that “All persons shall have the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary for a democratic society.”
In respect of Article 21(1)(f) of Ghana’s Constitution which guarantees the right to information the Act also seeks “to provide for the implementation of the constitutional right to information held by a public body, subject to the exemptions that are necessary and consistent 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”.
Even though there were anticipation and petitions asking for further amendments to some provisions of the bill, Parliament went ahead to pass the bill into law. This was extremely good as the bill has been so long kept without passing into law. It was anticipated that challenges could be identified during the implementation stages and corrections made.
To many a citizen, the law is to enable citizens to hold the government accountable and again to ensure that there is a high level of transparency in the governance system of the country.
Ghana now joins over 100 countries around the world that have implemented some form of freedom of information legislation, Sweden being the first since 1766 when it passed its Freedom of the Press Act. In Africa, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, and Guinea among others are already implementing RTI.
Providing information on the Right to Information law at a news conference last Wednesday, the Minister for Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, expressed delight at the huge strides made so far as a country, in the implementation of the law. “RTI is working” He intimated. The facilitation of the tripartite structure is quite intriguing. The demand side, which is the populace, made up of the Academia, Civil Society Organisations, Journalists, and Lawyers, among others on one hand, the supply side which in public institutions as well as private institutions funded by public funds and the Right to Information Commission which appears to be the regulator.
The regulator seeks to build an informed citizenry and guarantee all persons’ right to know and access to information. It was resounding to hear from the Minister for the implementation ministry, that “RTI is working”.
So far, a total of 1,053 information requests have been received out of which 838 representing about 80 per cent have been granted.
The acceleration in the request for information suggests the appreciation of the law by the Ghanaian populace. The law came into force in 2020, and according to the Minister for Information, the number of requests went up in the second year after the reconciliation, to about 247 requests which is a very huge jump. “By the third year, 2022, 783 requests were received across the various information units in the public institutions in the country.
He said the challenge is the demand side of the law that is creating some issues, but the Secretariat will “continue to engage in public education to help the demand side because once people know how the law works, then they are better able to apply the law in their search for information and I think that gives a fair sense of how we are doing in implementing this law.”
Some have been rejected based on the law. There are those that have been deferred or transferred to other institutions based on what the law says.”
As part of the aims of the enactment of the law as to improve access to information to ensure genuine and effective democracy, it will be expedient to acknowledge the features of democracy which often include not only the freedom of assembly, association, property rights, freedom of religion and speech, citizenship, consent of the governed, voting rights, freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty, and minority rights but importantly the citizens right to information.
This brings to the fore the urgent need for the Right to Information Commission to embark on an aggressive campaign to sensitise and educate the citizens on the existence of the law, its importance, and the processes to access information.
Information literacy is a building block for a transparent society which I a way curbs corruption. It encourages and informs problem-solving and critical thinking, especially in academia where students could use appropriate resources to produce high-quality assessments.
Citizens can also, by way of access to information, locate, use and evaluate information to inform their decision-making.
Information is very important and an essential component of our daily lives, and the need for information is pervasive within all facets of human life. From personal growth to economic development, access to relevant and accurate information is critical to making informed decisions and achieving goals.
The need for information has therefore become even more critical in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world. Individuals and organisations need access to the latest research, trends, and ideas to stay competitive and relevant.
The optimum use of this law by Ghanaians would go a long way to avoid disinformation and misinformation that create unnecessary tension, confusion and animosity among us as a people.
Let us all explore the various information needs and how access to information can help individuals and organisations to join hands in holistic national development. Let us all help RTI to work and we will derive its amazing benefits
BY NANA SIFA TWUM (PHD)