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Data Protection Bill Could Be Misused Without Freedom of Information Bill.

Sun, 12 Feb 2012 Source: Berko, George

To most Ghanaians it might be such a big deal to have our Parliament pass the Data Protection Bill which many claim to have been long overdue. Surely, it is a Bill that any genuine Democracy should expect to have as one of its foundations. So, in that sense I say ‘Kudos!’ to the Parliament. But how really protected is our Nation with this Bill in the gaping absence of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill? The fact that the two Bills go together cannot be overstated, and the continued neglect of the FOI Bill should give us more to worry than to rejoice about.

I can't help, even if cynically, wondering if the Parliament was quick to pass this Bill ahead of the FOI Bill only so it can protect its members and other Officials from any Public intrusion to expose their nefarious behaviors. In the same mode, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some folks regard the Parliament’s passing of the Data Protection Bill as some kind of counter to the repeal of the anti-libel Law and People's demand for the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill. If that is not the case, then the Parliament should move immediately to pass the FOI Bill as the opposite side of the same Coin.

Even though the Reports mention the new Law would protect People’s privacy, one would be justified to question the real motives for our MPs to pass this Law with such alacrity at this point in time, while the demand for the Freedom of Information Bill still languishes at the bottom of the Parliament’s priorities. What, and whose, Data does the Parliament really consider as needing immediate Constitutional protection? And from whom is the Parliament eager to protect such Data so urgently? I bet my bottom dollar that had this Data Protection Law been passed before the exposure of Woyomegate, much less could the Public have known about it than we know now on that case. The Data Protection Law would have been misapplied to shield much of the information the Public have come by on that case. It would have been more reassuring to the Citizenry that the Government was keen in seeking our Nation’s wellbeing, had the MPs enacted the Freedom of Information Bill first. It could have lent more credit to the MPs as signaling to the Public that they would not condone any misdeeds against the State. Choosing to enact the Data Protection Bill first seems like they are thinking more of building reinforcement to their personal insulation from Public scrutiny than protecting the Nation’s vital Data and People’s privacy.

So, where is the FOI Bill? It is unarguable that the FOI Bill is much needed to strike a reasonable balance between protection of vital Data, where necessary, and the need for revealing some crucial record to fight corruption. The FOI Bill is needed to complement the Data Protection Bill; it would make relevant information for our Democratic progress available to the Public on time.

It isn't only unfair, but also sends the wrong message to criminal-minded Officials, that any data on their clandestine, corrupt activities cannot be exposed to the Public upon whom they often prevail to keep their Positions. The FOI Bill could help the Public sort out and know the truths from the mendacious speculations about their Political leaders to help them make reasonable choices for their leaders. Denying us that Bill is only giving us partial Democracy. I, therefore, strongly urge the Parliament to pass the FOI Bill now!!

Ghanaians must join forces to push Parliament to pass the FOI Bill now. It is only when the FOI Bill is seriously taken up in Parliament for passage that any classification of Data within the Data Protection Law can be vigorously tested. If the FOI Bill is not passed, entities with special parochial interests could easily maneuver to cover up certain Data that need be urgently accessed to establish a crucial status of an issue pertinent to our progress. That could include an Official’s criminal handling of a National Deal, for example. The FOI Bill is needed to help substantiate any specific boundaries between Data that are truly of National Security Interest deserving to remain sealed and those that must be immediately accessible to the Public, for instance.

There has never been a better time in our Nation’s History for the Transparency that only the FOI Bill could guarantee to help us monitor the behavior of our Politicians and other Officials, given the current spate of Corruption, including Woyomegate and other instances of Business Fraud. If the FOI Bill were in existence, it might not have taken this long to get to the bottom of, say, the murder of the three Judges and a Captain, the murders of Rosco Frimpong, Mobila, Ya Naa and his family, and the loss of humongous piles of Cocaine seized, etc.

The absence of the FOI Bill would make this Data Protection Bill vulnerable to misuse by Security Agencies and other entities to, particularly, stonewall us from knowing the truth in most cases with high-profile tenor. The new Data Protection Bill would only be used, then, to add yet another layer of impenetrability to the shield the Security Agencies and other Political entities already enshroud certain issues in.

It might also be argued that the longer it takes the Parliament to give us the Freedom of Information Bill, the more it confirms that it is only interested in ensuring its members and other Elites could get away with much of the Economic crimes people have suspected them to be perpetrating against the State.

But I must stress that we are tired of the convoluted, labyrinthine, even kafkaesque procedures by which Business Deals get done in Ghana by our Officials. Yes, these words all literally and idiomatically depict the level our Officials would go to befuddle us with various Deals that they use to steal from us. They would rather keep us in the dark on the details of such Deals. We are tired of how overnight Companies get formed by Officials and/or their cronies to contest and win bids (assuming the bids are even open to other competitors) for huge Projects whose deals hardly benefit the Nation-- but just the few owners of the Businesses and their cronies. We are tired of how Local genuine Businesses and Entrepreneurs are sidelined by Officials to offer lucrative Business Deals to foreign entities who tend to be much more easily co-opted to cut the Officials their 10%.

We are tired of seeing Officials clad their dubious Official practices (to loot the Nation) under thin veils of legality that their Judicial accomplices stamp approvals on to let them go unpunished.

If the FOI Bill could get passed, the entire Citizenry would have the Constitutional right to demand for any relevant records that may help expose most, if not all, of such fraudulent, pseudo-legal machinations to steal from us.

Lastly, it is only when such a FOI Bill exists that Officials would be substantially deterred from colluding with anyone else to milk us. Ghana deserves a break from these insatiably avaricious predatory Officials and this new Data Protection Law does seem to be adequate without the FOI Bill. We need the FOI Bill now!!!

Long Live Ghana!!!

Columnist: Berko, George