Politics of 2014-06-29

Ghana requires information law to trace looted money

Providing information in a timely manner on government activities can expose corruption at its birthing stages and ensure that the path of the looted money is traced, says Right To Information (RTI) Coalition.

It said information should be made available at a time when it is relevant and can be utilised to resolve issues of national interest.

A statement the coalition issued in Accra and copied to Ghana news agency over the weekend, observed that information on government activities retrieved at the earliest possible time is capable of exposing corruption.

It noted that with the emergence of social media platforms like facebook and twitter churning out information in a matter of seconds, the timeliness of information disclosure in public institutions is critical.

Timely disclosure of information is fundamental to the efficacy of any right to Information legislation.

However, the Ghana Right to Information Bill currently before parliament is very weak in this direction and could take more than half a year in certain situations before a request for information is granted, the coalition said.

Ghana’s RTI Bill requires 21 working days before a request is considered and 14 days to determine whether or not the information will be given. Another 14 days is required for the information requested to be produced.

There is 21 working days possible extension if the application involves large quantities of information and a three Month (90 days) possible period of extension at the Minister’s discretion.

It also takes 30 days within which to notify the applicant in writing of the period of extension while 21 working days is required to file an application for review and 21 working days to notify the applicant of the Minister’s decision on review.

The bill further requires 21 working days to lodge an application for judicial review at the Supreme Court and when the request is to be transferred to another institution, the Bill provides for 10 working days within which to make the transfer.

When a request is to be transferred to another institution, the Bill provides for 10 working days within which a transfer is to be made.

The RTI coalition described the timelines as stated in the Bill as “excessive and undermines the right to information”.

It questioned whether it is necessary for one to wait for 14 days when an application relates to information, which reasonably appears to be necessary to safeguard the life or liberty of a person.

It said 21 working days to merely consider a request and determine whether or not information would be given is manifestly too long while the Sector Minister’s discretion to extend the timeframe to a further three months is absolutely unnecessary and might lead to the abuse of power by the Minister.

“Unduly long timelines may discourage applicants from applying for a review of their request for information, or worst still applicants may be discouraged from requesting for information at all; Long timelines may also render the information useless or irrelevant when obtained,” the coalition said.

The Coalition therefore proposes the Bill be amended to include 48 hours to consider request and determine whether or not information will be given.

It also suggests 14 days needed to give information to the applicant and another 14 days extension to be shortened to 48 hours.

However, in Nigeria, Article 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 provides that when an application is made, the public institution to which the application is made shall within seven days after the application is received make the information available to the applicant.

It also states that when a transfer of the request is to be made to another institution, the public institution may make the transfer within three days but not later than seven days. Extension of the time stipulated shall not exceed seven days.

In Sierra Leone, the Right to Access Information Act, 2013, provides that a request for information shall receive a response within 15 working days of receipt of the application.

When an application is especially complex or relates to a large volume of information, an extension of time may be made for not more than 15 working days. When a transfer is to be made under Article 5(1) of the Act, the application may be transferred not later than three days from the date of receipt of the application.

Liberia, Chapter three, Section 3.9 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2010 provides that every public authority and private entity shall respond to every request for information within 30 calendar days.

The 30 calendar days shall be extended once but upon showing of a reasonable cause. In case of a transfer, it shall be made no later than 15 days after receipt of the request.