Coalition for FOI meets parliamentary committee

Tue, 15 Jul 2008 Source: Nii Kwaku Osabutey ANNY

on constitutional and legal affairs. *

Members of the coalition for the passage of the right to information bill have stepped up the campaign to have parliament pass the bill into law before the expiration of its term. Proponents of the bill say the bill will not only improve the democratic governance of the country, but improve transparency-necessary for the socio-economic development of the country. Members of the coalition on Tuesday had a breakfast meeting with members of the parliamentary select committee on Constitutional and legal affairs to work out further fine details before the bill is tabled before parliament for discussion, and passage.

Senior member of the Commonwealth for Human Rights Initiative and leader of the coalition, Sam Okudzeto said the bill is an important asset to deepening the democratic values of the country, as well as promote transparency in governance.

Mr. Okudzeto said the globalised nature of the world has open up the space for people to appreciate and understand the concept of democracy. He said people have become conscious of their rights as citizens, but those rights are not fully utilised mainly because structures such as the right to information bill which will empower people to demand accountability is not currently available.

"It's the people's power, rights which are enshrined in the constitution," Mr. Okudzeto said in appreciation of the importance of the passage of the bill.

"It helps to put government on its toes."

On the issue of maximum disclosure, Mr. Okudzeto said it's important for those in authority to know that information they give out to either individuals or groups does not affect them in anyway unless they have something to hide.

"They should understand that it's the entire society's interest at stake here so people should disabuse their minds on it."

He used the oil discovery and questions about its transparency in the area of revenue allocation to the state to buttress his argument.

Mr. Sam Okudzeto also raised questions about the thirty (30) day offered for disclosure of any information and instead, appealed to members of the committee to consider a fourteen (14) day period as the maximum which mentioned as reasonable.

Member of the committee and MP for Evalue Egwira- Kojo Armah wondered if the passage of the bill will not compromise on the security of the state.

But Mr. Okudzeto disputed his fears. He said people have always used the issue of national security to run away rendering accounts of the stewardship to the people of this country. He therefore warned that those who want to use national security as a smoke screen to shy away from their responsibilities should not be made to have their way.

"Everbody is being judged on the same level," he added to explain the international acceptability of the bill.

On the issue of maximum disclosure, Mr. Okudzeto said people should not necessarily be carrying the notion that whatever information they give is about them. According to him, maximum disclosure goes to protect the interest of the entire state, and not individuals.

Mr. Okudzeto was also unhappy with the monetary demands state institutions make from those who want to seek information. He said tying monetary incentives to any information amount to extortion and those who stand to lose are the poor in the society.

Mr. Okudzeto also raised the status of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, whose current status, he mentioned, does not allow for fairness.

"I don't believe the one who sits in cabinet is to turn round and prosecute his colleagues," said Mr. Okudzeto himself a legal practitioner.

He therefore called for the establishment of an independent commission to oversee the review of cases brought before it.

Chairman of the committee Yaw Baah acknowledged the importance of bill to the economic development of the country, and assured members of the coalition of his outfit preparedness to push the bill through.

MP for Lawra Nandum Dr. Benjamin Kumbour advised all parties to take a second look at the numerous exemptions in the draft bill before it's tabled in parliament for general discussion.

Questions about whether or not the chieftaincy institution should be subjected under the same disclosure came up, and it became clear that chiefs, as custodians of the resources within an area, are equally answerable to the people they supervise in their communities.

Nii Kwaku Osabutey ANNY *(Member of the Coalition for the passage of the right to information bill, Accra, Ghana.)*

Source: Nii Kwaku Osabutey ANNY

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