General News Mon, 12 Jan 2009

Ghana to host workshop on Access to Information

Accra, Jan. 12, GNA - Ghana is to host a two-day international workshop on Access To Information (ATI) to share the findings of a legislative audit with representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from West African countries.

CSO representatives from the Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia will participate in the two-day workshop from January 19 to 20 which has the theme; "Promoting People's Access to Information: The West Africa Experience".

It would also examine the broad international consensus that people's access to information from public bodies is crucial for the existence of any truly participatory and democratic system of governance.

In a statement to the Ghana News Agency in Accra on Monday, the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI) said ATI was a core value for determining the principles of democratic governance by the Commonwealth.

The statement signed by Ms Sohini Paul from the Access to Information Programme, CHRI, New Delhi Office said the Commonwealth Law Ministers viewed access to official information as integral to both promoting transparent and accountable governance. "Article nine of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights upholds the right of every human being to access information and states that; Every individual shall have the right to receive information, and every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law," Ms Paul stated.

This principle was later expanded when African countries adopted the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa at Banjul, the Gambia in 2002.

It said the African declaration recognises that, "public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law," and that "the right to information shall be guaranteed by law in accordance with principles set in the Declaration".

The statement said CHRI believed that ATI was key to creating a participatory democracy, whereby both citizens and CSOs had ready access to the decision-making processes and were able to actively participate in governance at local, regional and national levels. It said through such a system of governance citizens' rights could begin to be realised and safeguarded.

According to the statement, more than 60 countries had passed ATI laws since the 1990s and that South Africa was the first African country to enact an information access law and remained the best example of how transparency could be entrenched in governance.

It said in 2005 Uganda became the fourth country after Zimbabwe and Angola to enact ATI legislation. None of West African countries have an ATI law on their statute book.

"Over the past few years, there had been a resurgence of civil society activism on the right to information in the African context. Across Africa, officials and/or advocates of transparency in Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been busy drafting ATI Bills" it said.

The statement said while a lot of efforts were focused on campaigning for ATI legislation, not much attention had been paid to identifying, documenting and testing information disclosure provisions in existing legislations.

The Accra workshop would plan strategies to test the efficacy of the provisions in Ghana; use the platform to launch similar legislative audits in other West Africa countries and plan strategies for strengthening access to information campaigns in West Africa. The workshop would also examine the nature and effectiveness of the mechanisms that exist in Ghana for accessing information in the context of; police and the criminal justice system; the budget-making processes; assets declaration for public officials; and local government system among other things. 12 Jan. 09

Source: GNA