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Members of the Right to Information Coalition (RTI Coalition) have met with Members of Parliament to discuss some proposed clauses considered “problematic” in the draft RTI Bill which is currently at the Consideration Stages in Parliament.
The meeting dubbed “From Citizens to Parliament Dialogue on the Right to Information Bill” brought together Lawyers, students, good governance advocates, politicians, journalists and civil society groups for a detailed discussion with the parliamentarians focused on having a strong RTI Law for Ghana.
Though a joint Committee of Parliament on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs; and Communications which is dealing with Bill has already presented its report to the plenary, members of the coalition are of the view that some of the clauses still need a review or deletion if the final document is to be beneficial to the citizenry.
Among the concerns the Coalition is asking for the expansion of the list of types of information that should be disclosed.
They lauded the act that the draft RTI Bill places primacy on the need for disclosure of information proactively but lamented that the number of categories of information which must be proactively disclosed falls short of international best practice standards.
“To provide the appropriate guidance on the types of information that should be disclosed proactively, the Bill should adopt the proposals of Article 7 of the Model Law on Access to Information in Africa,” they demand.
A leading member of the Coalition, Mina Mensah, told the gathering that on a normal day when a Committee of Parliament presents a report on a Bill to the Plenary it stalls further public input, however, it has become necessary to do things differently in the case of the draft RTI Bill because civil society still thinks there is more to be done.
“Yes, Parliament has brought its report but we have found out that although some work has been done, we still can talk as citizens of this country because the Bill belongs to all of us.
“Yes, Parliament has brought its report but we think as citizens we also can have a say before they start the consideration stage.
“We have here with us experts to help with the legal perspective and from governance perspective. We are in a democracy and in a democracy it is rules that work,” Mina Mensah stated.
In all, the Coalition has listed about Seven “problematic clauses” in the draft Bill which bothers on legal and governance issues and they want them critically addressed.
In a presentation on the governance perspective on the implications of the problematic clauses in the draft Bill, a Governance Expert, Dr Eric Oduro Osae, observed among others that Public Information has not been properly defined. He said also that there is no provision for the integration of the decentralized system that is currently being practiced in Ghana.
He lamented the absence of checks and balances in the draft Bill saying “for example, if we don’t make provisions for Persons with Disability to access information we would be breaching the 1992 constitution”.
On the legal perspective on the implications of the problematic clauses in the draft Bill, a legal practitioner, Edmund Foley, said it is important to look at existing laws on information dissemination in the country and ensure that they are related to the draft Bill. He believes among others that the Court should be given unfettered access to information.
A women’s rights advocate, Shamima Muslim, said although democracy is expensive it is the path that we have chosen to go as a country and it is important that all citizens support the course.
“It is really a fact that if we don’t want it let us not pass it because there are indicators internationally that we would be measured by, so let us take all the pains and go through this now so that we don’t end up with an RTI Law that is not credible,” she stated.
Responding to some of the concerns, the Member of Parliament for Gomoa West, Alex Kwadwo Abban, who is also a vice Chairman of the Committee assured the gathering that though the Committee’s Report has been presented there is still room for the introduction of new amendments and that they would ensure that the concerns of the Coalition are captured.
He was however concerned about the demand for the expansion of the types of information that should be accessed stating that “if care is not taken it would make nonsense of the “Oath of Secrecy” clause as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution.
Source: Jeorge Wilson Kingson || ghananewsonline.com.gh