Opinions Sun, 4 Nov 2018

RTI Bill: Self-serving MPs must know citizens’ real ultimate power

In part five of my series focusing on the ideal envisaged by our forebears and framers of our Constitution, I refer to article 35 clause 6 to point out the sad fact that the country’s political leaders and holders of public office need serious rethink of the place and role of citizens in government.

I draw the attention of citizens to the need to assert their rights as provided therein that article, are real kingmakers from whom these leaders derive power.

Citizens, Civil Society and the Media, unfortunately, have for over a decade been begging these leaders to pass the Right to Information Bill into law. This is a really sad commentary as the political class is obviously disinterested despite the RTI being a constitutional imperative.

Article 35(1) ideal is that: “Ghana shall be a democratic state dedicated to the realization of freedom and justice; and accordingly, sovereignty resides in the people of Ghana from whom Government derives all its powers and authority through this Constitution.”

I have lost count how many times I have written and advocated for the passage of the RTI Bill into Law. I am angry at the disrespect and disdain shown citizens on this Bill. I am angry at the sheer waste they have inflicted on taxpayers as a result of their inertia, fear and parochial self-serving interests not to pass the RTI Bill into law.

Let me simplify the story, Ghana has spent some two decades on a law (an Act) for citizens to demand information about how their taxes are used and about how the people they put in public office/government operate ON THEIR BEHALF. The basis of this law is article 21 of the Constitution. This law is necessary because constitutions deal with the broad strokes of a subject but it is Acts that supply the detail mechanics of asserting a right among others.

This law will enable citizens demand information and officers of the State will have to supply the information demanded under compulsion of law. What this means is that, generally, the situation where such requests for information are subject to an officer’s discretion or whim will be done away with. The other implication is that, citizens generally won’t have to spend money to go to court to compel supply of information not exempt from disclosure.

The IEA led a draft bill in 1996. Government did its draft bill in 2002 and this was reviewed in 2003, then reviewed again in 2005 and then reviewed again in 2007. It was eventually laid in Parliament in 2010. The 5th Parliament held nationwide consultations on it but never passed it.

The process had to start afresh and the 6th Parliament never passed it despite further and most extensive review and debates. This 7th Parliament received yet another fresh (further reviewed) bill after intense crusade for the President to honour campaign promises cum a recent public promise to pass it.

Now the Majority Leader says they are being rushed into passing it and that they won’t take that. Another majority MP, K.T. Hammond, says passing it will grind government business to a halt and leave the presidency without secrets. Well, that’s fat lie as most information at the presidency is generally exempt. Guess what? All information generated in public office is generated with taxpayers money by people paid, housed, fed and transported by the taxpayer yet these citizens should not be entitled to same as of right?

May we, on the basis of the knowledge of the ideal envisaged by our forebears and framers of the Constitution, resist this new oppressor, mostly self-serving men pretending to represent our interests in the august house of parliament. Cut the years of excuses! Pass the RTI Law now!
Columnist: Samson Lardy Anyenini
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