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RTI: Two Coalitions speak to the Ghanaian Media (Statement)

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Friends from the Media, Members of the RTI Coalition, ladies and gentlemen;

We are pleased to welcome you to this afternoon’s press conference as we take the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas. Many of us envisaged a Christmas which the people of Ghana will celebrate with the joy of having a Right to Information (RTI) Bill passed so we can have a sunshine regime in our dear nation Ghana. Unfortunately, with just two more Sitting Days for the ongoing Meeting of Parliament to come to an end, our elected representatives have once again appeared to be failing to do the needful.

At this afternoon’s Press Conference, we will outline the plethora of activities and engagements we have had with Parliament on the Bill this year alone; respond to some of the rather unfortunate inaccuracies that have been put out by very prominent people; and address His Excellency the President and Parliament on their failure to live by their respective commitments to the passage of the Bill.

Friends from the Media, on the 6th of March this year, President Akufo-Addo announced to the whole of Ghana at the Black Star Square during the Independence Day Parade that The Right to information law would increase transparency and add another critical weapon to the armoury in the fight against corruption. After many years we intend to bring the bill to Parliament and get it passed to law before the end of this meeting of Parliament

Although his promise pointed to getting the Bill passed by end of the then Meeting of Parliament (which would have been not later than 23rd March 201817 days from the day of his promise) the Coalition, realizing the unrealistic nature of this promise, charged the Executive branch of government to at the very least, get the Bill laid in Parliament by that date. This culminated into a spirited social media campaign, one-day street advocacy and series of engagements on other media platforms that mounted pressure on government to get the Bill laid in Parliament on the 23rd of March this year. You will recall that even the laying of the Bill was done without gazetting contrarily to article 106 of the Constitution and this led to the Bill being withdrawn and a properly gazetted version laid on April 26th before Parliament went on recess.

Ladies and gentlemen, since May this year, civil society has engaged and supported Parliament’s Joint Committee on Constitutional, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs and Communications in many forms to ensure that the quality of the Bill is improved before passage and to put to the disposal of Parliament a wealth of knowledge and international best practices to deliver a good law. On 8th May, we participated in and supported the organization of a Stakeholder Conference on the Bill held in Parliament House by the Joint Committee. Civil Society again was allowed to participate in the clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill by the Joint Committee in Koforidua which ended up in the Committee’s final report presented to Parliament on 28th May.

Noticing that some thorny issues in the Bill had still not been addressed by the Joint Committee’s Report, civil society issued a paper on “Problematic Clauses” that needed to be addressed by Parliament. We went ahead to ensure the circulation of these Problematic Clauses to all 275 MPs through their pigeonholes and engaged informally with members of the Committee.

We were hopeful that the Consideration of the Bill at plenary will be handled immediately after the Second Reading of the Bill took place on June 7th, but it was not until 11th July, over one month from the Second Reading, that Parliament commenced the consideration of the Bill. What is more, our MPs only committed four Sitting Days to the Bill on 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th July before they ended the Meeting for the August-October recess.

Ladies and gentlemen, all the financial, time and human resources committed to this process by civil society have still not yielded the needed results of getting Parliament to pass a piece of legislation that will ensure that information produced with our tax money are provided to us timeously and without hustle. In October this year, the vibrant Media Coalition on RTI actively identified with the campaign with series of media-led and media-run activities also aimed at getting Parliament to attach much seriousness to the Bill. The Media Coalition exposed the inferior and sinister tactics of MPs like Mr. K.T. Hammond and Mr. Samuel Nartey George who called quorum whenever the RTI Bill was to be considered; picketed Parliament on October 30th and November 15th only to have some of their members abused by Parliamentary security; and joined other CSOs to embark on Street Advocacies and the declaration of #RTIRedFriday on November 30th. Even with all these, the men and women who have been elected to represent us have turned a deaf ear on the expectations of their constituents to get the Bill passed.

Promises after promises, many elements of government and leaders of Parliament have assured the people that the Bill will be passed this year. But we guess this has remained a case of ‘false prophet.’ Aside the President’s promise, which we believed should at the barest minimum get Parliament to pass the Bill before the end of year; we had the Majority Leader of the House, who holds a very important role as Leader of Government Business in Parliament and Chairman of the Business Committee that sets the agenda for each Sitting Day promise that the Bill will pass before the 2019 Budget is read in Parliament. After November 15th when the Budget was read, Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu made a U-turn with a new promise of leading to get the Bill passed before end of year. His colleague the Minority Leader, Mr. Haruna Iddrisu, promised same, but these were just but empty promises from our legislative assembly which is gradually losing its credibility so far as keeping to promises and work schedules on the RTI Bill.

Ladies and gentlemen, to have the Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament make a similar promise and fail on same is the highest level of parliamentary disappointment.

Members of the Press, let us now focus on some inaccuracies put across by some prominent people and take this opportunity to educate them and some Ghanaians who may have been swayed by this misinformation.

Mr. Joe Osei-Wusu (First Deputy Speaker of Parliament) and Mr. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu have expressed concern that people are not taking advantage of section 47 of the Local Government Act to request for information at the district level since the Act was amended two years back.  Section 47 of the Act reads:

47 (1) Every resident in a district shall have access on request to information held by a District Assembly or a Department of the District Assembly subject to limitation imposed by law.

(2) The Secretary to a District Assembly is responsible for ensuring access to information on request.

So, the question is how different is this section from the constitutional right to information provision, ie. Article 21 (1) (f) which everyone agrees there is the need to legislate on it to set out the framework for the enjoyment of the right.

H.E. John Agyekum Kuffour is reported to have noted at the Annual Leadership Series programme held on December 12 that “The bill must be passed to achieve better governance but not at the expense of security,” The Coalition would like to note, as he must be aware, that the Bill has more than enough provisions on the protection of national security. In fact, the many exemptions in the Bill has been one of the reasons why civil society have been pushing for amendment before passage as there are international standards and best practices in dealing with such.

Mr. Sam George on his part has been advocating for the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) Act to be amended before the passage of the RTI Bill. According to him, that is the only way that we can ensure proper records management which will facilitate the implementation of the RTI Bill when passed. Whereas the PRAAD Act will focus on the records, the RTI Act will go beyond that by ensuring proper records generation and management, setting out the modalities for accessing those records on time, and with less or no stress. It therefore baffles the Coalition why Mr. George would want to choose the amendment of the PRRAD Act over the passage of the RTI Bill, especially so when as a member of the Joint Committee to which the Bill was first referred, he never raised any such concern.

Mr. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu also expressed disappointment at civil society’s call for the passage of the RTI Bill instead of the Affirmative Action Bill. According to him, the Affirmative Action Bill (AAB) is more critical. As much as the Coalition agrees that the AAB is important, it is not more important than the RTI Bill which seeks to benefit everyone. In any case, no one has ever prevented Parliament from passing the AAB so it is necessary that Parliament cut the talk and rather fulfill their core responsibility by passing it.

Mr. Joe Osei-Wusu’s comment made at the closing ceremony of the Anti-Corruption conference on December 10 is worthy of note. Mr. Osei-Wusu is reported to have said “Sometimes it is frustrating when the impression is created that Parliament is not willing to pass the RTI law, and must emphasis that ever since I have been an MP, for the first time the rare powers of Parliament was used so that we could work on the RTI Bill by suspending the Standing Orders with respect to quorum” But interestingly, he did not tell us how long the suspension took place and how many clauses were discussed within that period. It may interest you all to note that Mr. Osei-Wusu in 2016 when his party, the NPP was in opposition accused the NDC government for not prioritizing the passage of the RTI Bill and added that “I have seen bills that are much bigger, for example, the income tax law was about three times the size of this one but when it was the priority of government, we sat through day and night to finish it. So, it depends on priority” So deducing from his comment and the unfulfilled promises from both the Executive and the Legislature on the Bill, the Coalition is of the view that the RTI Bill is not a priority of the Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo led NPP government.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will like to end here by calling on members of the public to engage their respective MPs even during these Christmas period and their recess. By asking your MP “what is happening to the RTI Bill” you will be contributing to a national agenda to ensure a more transparent, accountable and responsive Ghana where corruption will be dealt with. To our members of Parliament, we challenge them to engage their constituents during this recess period and they will realize that their employers – the constituents – will prefer a sunshine regime to governance shrouded with secrecy and lack of information. We also want to remind them that passage of the RTI is a constitutional obligation and not a discretion and so we expect them to fulfill their responsibilities. Finally, we call on you the members of the media to continue to do our bit to ensure that this law passes.

GOD bless our homeland Ghana.

Thank you for coming.

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