Opinions of Wed, 12 May 20100
The Ghanaian Condition (Part 9)
THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL---MATTERS ARISING.
The Right to Information Bill has been laid before Parliament for deliberations and hopefully,for passage.
This is a Bill which in all honesty when properly scrutinized,non-partisantly debated and passed will go a long way in entrenching and fortifying our young democracy.
The essence of this Bill is to empower the citizenry to hold to account all our officials in positions of TRUST & RESPONSIBILITY,be he the President ,Minister,Member of Parliament,Head of Government Institutions and what have you..
For far too long our leaders have been riding rough-shod on us and are neither Transparent nor Accountable to us the people whose interests they are supposed to represent.
Coming to the Bill itself there are areas which if not corrected or removed will do UNTOLD HARM and render the whole Bill unworkable..
These points were clearly and unambiguously high-lighted by Lawyer Mr.Akoto Ampaw when he gave a lecture at the Ghana International Press Centre on the World Press Freedom Day Celebration on the theme “Freedom of Information:The Right to Know”
According to him Section 7 (3) of the RTI Bill states that “All information created by or in the custody of the Security Agencies is totally EXEMPT” emphasis mine.
He conceded that nobody is saying that every information in the hands of the Security Agencies should be disclosed to the public,but that non-disclosure should be related to the “HARM TEST”.That is information should not be disclosed to the public if its disclosure would cause a REAL HARM to national security.
The other contentious aspect of the Bill as he mentioned are a number of very dangerous blanket provisions,which states that all information apart from data and figures in the offices of the President ,the Vice-President and Cabinet stood exempted.
Mr Akoto.Ampaw further averred that if there is going to be wrong-doing in this country,then the places where the worse wrong doing can occur are precisely the office of the President,office of the Vice-President and the Cabinet office. I couldn’t agree with him more.
Let me support his argument with three historical facts for the benefit of those who may think otherwise.
The first case involved the late President Richard Nixon( Tricky Dicky) of the U.S.A. In his desperate schme to get re-elected for the second time,he set up a covert organization known as Committee to Re-elect the President (C.R.P). Amongst some of their clandestine activities were to bug the offices of their political opponents the Democrats.This clearly was the President of the U.S.A involving in a criminal activity and went to all lengths to cover it up.
Two fearless and courageous journalists by the names of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were instrumental in exposing this criminal act which resulted in the Impeachment of President Nixon though he was later given a Presidential Pardon by President Ford.Any one interested in this case should read the book “All the President’s Men” by these two journalists or watch the film by the same name which starred Robert Bedford and Dustin Hoffman.
The second case involved again a Republican President Ronald Reagan who used Colonel Oliver North to illegally arm the Nicaragua Contra Rebels to overthrow the legitimate Government of that country,again this was an illegal act contrary to the Constitution of the U.S.A. Again Ronald Reagan and his criminal gangs were exposed to the whole world for what they were.
The third case is the recent British MP’s fraudulent expenses account which was exposed by the efforts of a seasoned journalist.
When this case Came to Parliament the former speaker of Parliament Mr Michael Martin employed all the subterfuge and intimidatory tactics to suppress the truth coming out..
He claimed that Parliament was immune from outside investigation asserting Parliamentary immunity.
Eventually the case ended up in the High Court and the learned judge ruled that once it was the taxpayers money involved ,the taxpayer has the right to know how their monies were being used.As of now some MP’s are facing fraud charges with the possibility of a custodial sentence.
Can this happen in Ghana? Not with the current crop of yellow –bellied journalist who can be easily bought to look the other way.
Can the three highest offices of the land too be trusted to behave absolutely cleanly and in the spirit and letter of the Constitution?
If what happened under the former President Kuffour is anything to go by the unequivocal answer is NO.
Just look at what happened in the Tsatsu Tsikata case when Kuffour empanelled the Supreme Court with extra Judges to give judgement in his favour when he lost the original case against Mr. Tsikata.
The Present Government should do the decent thing and remove those parts of the Bill which is anti-democratic. They should remember that they are not going to be in power for-ever and that one day they will be out of office,so they better do the decent thing.
The other thing is the time line for which officials should give an answer to any one seeking information under the bill.A reasonable time-frame should be 30 working days,no more no less.I pray that all our MP’s read the Bill line by line and vote on non-partisan basis in the interest of our motherland.
This Bill plus the Whistleblowers Act combined will be an effective weapon for the citizenry to hold in check and accountable our leaders who act on our behalves in whichever capacity we put them. All our political leaders,current and future should remember this dictum, “All Politics invariably tend to end up in tears”
God bless Ghana our Motherland.