Access To Information And Ghana�s Commitment Under The Open Government Partnership

In September 2011, Ghana joined some 46 other countries around the world to sign unto the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an initiative that seeks to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency and accountability, enhance citizen's participation and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.  

Ghana’s involvement in this initiative was born out of the country’s zeal for the promotion of democratic governance, to wit; ensuring that governance systems and structures are transparent and accountable to the people; and that citizens are empowered to hold their governments accountable. 

Being an OGP member meant that Ghana is committed to increasing the availability of information about governmental activities, implementing the highest standards of professional integrity throughout its administrations, increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability and supporting civic participation.

As part of OGP requirements, Ghana, in January 2013, developed and submitted a National Action Plan which sets out the concrete and measurable commitments to be undertaken by Government to drive innovative reforms in the areas of transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement. The National Action Plan was to be implemented over a two year period.   

Specifically on transparency, Government undertook as one of its commitments in the National Action Plan, to work hand-in-hand with Parliament to ensure the early passage of the Right to Information Bill. Clause 3.1.3 of the Action Plan states:  ‘To give transparency a badly needed shot in the arm, government undertakes to work hand-in-hand with Parliament to ensure the early passage of the RTI Bill’.

‘Government undertakes to lobby Parliament to pass, by end 2013, the Right to Information Bill. This year 2015, marks two years since Ghana developed the National Action Plan. As the two-year period draws to a close, what is the current status of the RTI Bill, has the Ghana Government complied with its commitments to ensure an early passage of the Bill?

Indeed, some progress has been made on the Bill. For example, in September 2014, the Select Committee on Constitutional Legal and Parliamentary Affairs reviewed the problematic clauses of the Bill and proposed recommendations to the office of the Attorney General for the purpose of redrafting them.  

The Committee went further to prepare its report on the Bill and tabled it in Parliament on December 17th 2014. 

The Committee accordingly deserves our high commendation for the good job done for mother Ghana. The question however is, how do we ensure that Government moves beyond rhetoric, as was the case with past governments, to taking concrete steps for this Bill to be in place before another election year.

Do we trust Government enough to believe that this promise will be delivered when indeed two years have elapsed since the promise was first made to Ghanaians and the International Community? To what extent can we hold our governments accountable to commitments made in various international and regional platforms particularly when there are no sanctions for non-compliance?

Certainly, Ghana, because of its democratic credentials did not need an OGP commitment to pass an RTI law, all what is needed is just political will. Advocacy for the passage of the RTI Bill began in 2002 and thirteen years later, the advocacy is still on.

Is the RTI Bill a priority for Government? If the answer is in the affirmative, then how come Parliament is not being lobbied to ensure the speedy passage of the Bill? Why do we see other Bills being passed and yet the legislation that will ensure the effective implementation of other laws is yet to see the light of day. 

An access to information legislation is a major tool in the fight against corruption. As an African leader has said, ‘the Freedom of Information Act promises to remove the aura of mystery and exclusion with which public servants clothe the ordinary operations of government and public institutions and manage public records and information’.

This practice where citizens have to put pressure on government to release information that is in the public interest will become a thing of the past if this law is in place. On page 3 of Daily Guide of Thursday, February 12th 2015, it was reported that the ranking member on Youths, Sports and Culture and a Member of Parliament for Atwima-Mponua, Mr. Isaac Kwame Asiamah informed Parliament that his committee had persisted that the Ministry should bring its budget for the AFCON for scrutiny but the Minister refused to do so.

Now if a Committee in Parliament had such difficulties accessing information that is of public interest, what will happen to the ordinary Ghanaian who has no political affiliation? The Minister has told us that he does not report to the tax payers but only to the President; meanwhile the Minister is paid with the tax payers’ money and football is an issue of public interest. Today it is the budget for the black stars; tomorrow it may be the salary of the President!

It is only an effective RTI legislation that will help to protect the integrity of our public institutions which is fast deteriorating.  Such legislation will enhance citizens’ participation in governance and facilitate the speedy delivery of social services particularly in the rural communities.

While we continue to commend Parliament for its due diligence in ensuring that the review processes are completed, we take this opportunity to call on them, first to prioritize discussions on the Bill and second, ensure a non-partisan debate on the RTI Bill, its amendment and passage before this session of Parliament ends in March.