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Opinions Tue, 30 Jul 2013

Where is the Freedom of Information Bill at?

By Cletus D Kuunifaa

I have said that access to information and transparency should be considered a vaccine for ensuring good governance and Ghana must gear up for this vaccine to ensure accountability and prevent corruption. Scholars have written papers probing the anticipated implementation challenges of the freedom-of-information (FOI) law in countries like Finland, Jamaica, Liberia, and South Africa among others and the lessons should be there for Ghana to learn to improve on its FOI bill.

At this point, at what stage is the FOI bill in Parliament? Is it even currently at a deliberative stage? Who brings it up to the floor for deliberation? Or is it languishing somewhere on the shelves in Parliament? Ghanaians need to know, now! We need answers to these questions, right now!

Ghana has scored aces on a variety of issues on the continent, except for passing an FOI bill into law, which appears to be an anthill task and we are thus lagging behind on this.

In Ghana, the Right to Information (RTI) first reared its head in the Ghanaian public discourse since in 1999. By 2003, the government had already drafted the first RTI bill to operationalize the constitutional right to information under article 21(1) f of the 1992 constitution. This provision would suggest that Ghana has accepted, as a constitutional matter, the right to information enshrined in the constitutional document, and to all intents and purposes, the bill, when passed, will consolidate the rights of journalists and the public to access information from government officials and public institutions without hindrance. As I write now, there is no clue as to what stage the bill is and when it becomes law and that must be a source of concern for us Ghanaians.

Let me postulate here that: laws passed are not intended to be “paper tigers” and on account of that if Parliament is still working the nitty gritty of the bill for it to be a good and formidable law, kudos. Granted that being the case, Parliament would have been underscoring the point scholars have long stressed in recent studies to be that: simply having FOI legislation passed does not guarantee that access will be easier. In this sense, there would have been some justification for the delay in parliament, in my opinion, to study critically the facilitating and inhibiting factors of similar legislations to inform our own.

If, on the other hand, the bill is just languishing somewhere on the shelves in parliament and nothing is being done about it… that will be ludicrous as it will be an unacceptable situation and we demand to know at what stage the bill is now!

One standout feature of any FOI bill is the Proactive Disclosure clause/provision to make room for access to information even when request is not made. Of course, this underscores the assumption that information is a public property and maybe, just maybe, Parliament is unaware of the value of information as a human right. Indeed, I wonder if Parliament is cognizant of the reason why information is read into the guarantee of a human right which is spelled out in many of the international treaties and in national constitutions including our own.

If they do, question is: is parliament depriving us of our fundamental human right by not making the law operational? Ghanaians deserve to know at what stage is the FOI bill in Parliament? Apart from rumors monged and assumptions that Parliament wants the bill to cover the private sector, somebody must tell us what‘s going on about the bill, now!

Cletus D. Kuunifaa, Long Island University, LIU Post, New York. Can be contacted at dipnibe@yahoo.com or Follow him on twitter @ckuunifaa

Columnist: Kuunifaa, Cletus D