An essential right for every person is the freedom of information that allows individuals to protect their right.
After many years of struggle, protest and agitation, the Right to Information (RTI) Bill which was drafted in 1999 by the Ghana’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) to promote transparency and fight corruption and has gone through several reviews was passed last year 21st of May 2019.
The law is to provide for the implementation of the constitutional right to information from both public and some private institution for the protection of the public interest in a democratic society.
It was a great joy for many Ghanaians especially media outlets to operate diligently and responsible in terms of transparency and accountability, eliminating secrecy within the governance of Ghana.
Journalists in Ghana believed greatly that the passage of this Bill into law will facilitate the easy flow of information specifically in accessing official government information. But the question is, is that the case?
An Act which enables one access information has many exemptions. Thirteen categories of information pertaining to major executive government personnels are exempted in the RTI Law. These exemptions include issues bordering national security, public safety, private lives of people and others.
As important as these exemptions may be, it is mostly abused by some officials who are ascertained to keep their actions obscure from the public. Should information be kept from the public in the name of embarrassing one’s reputation?
It is not acceptable to withhold information just because it will land public officials into trouble as it makes the work of the media house ineffective to serve the interest of the public in the country.
The RTI also requires an applicant seeking access to information to pay fees or charges approved by parliament in accordance with the fees and charges of the Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2009 ( Act, 793) although parliament has not passed the legislative instrument to determine the fees applicable to request public information. This part may be reasonably understood but questionable. This is because, it blocks the poor from having access to information of which is their right to know.
Under the Central Act section 7(5), if a requester is a holder of the Below the Poverty Line Card, no fees or charges should be taking from him or her. How many Ghanaians have heard of such benefit or know the processes of being part of it? Media houses who also face monetary crisis may be unable to pay such fees and they will be denied from having access to the information.
Another big question to be asked is, are public institutions abreast of issues persons may have access to? Many public institutions in Ghana do not have the right and necessary information to give. This may cause delay or not giving out information to media outlets and individuals accessing it.
It was every person’s dream if not all, to pass the bill into law. For many decades they have long awaited for but it seems it does not meet the expectations of many Ghanaians because if something is said to be “Right”, then it should not have so many restrictions, it should be very flexible in all aspects.
Written by: Celestina Kwofie,
Student, Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ)