NEWSA TIME TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED – GHANA’S PARLIAMENT2012-01-19 16:24:16
A TIME TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED – GHANA’S PARLIAMENT
Last week, the first ever Pan African Conference on Access to Information (PACAI) took place in Cape Town, South Africa. Alongside this conference, Highway Africa also held its conference, the world’s largest annual meeting of African journalists, marking its 15th Anniversary. Several Ghanaian organizations, including the Ghana Journalists Association and Ghana Integrity Initiative, were represented at the Conference. At the same time, advocates in Cape Town undertook a match for the Right to Know to oppose the introduction of a “public interest” clause into an amendment to the “Secrecy Bill” that is pending before Parliament.
As part of the Conference proceedings, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Director of Media Rights Agenda and Mr. Malcolm Joseph, Executive Director of the Center for Media Studies and Peace-Building (CEMESP) were awarded for their efforts towards the successful advocacy and the enactment of Freedom of Information laws in Nigeria and Liberia, respectively. These two countries are the only West African countries that have a Freedom of Information law out of the ten African countries that have such a law. It is significant to note that the Nigerian Minister for Information and Communication and the Liberian Deputy Minister of Information made these presentations. Several South African government officials attended the conference and made presentations and participated in panel discussions, all supporting the passage of the Freedom of Information laws in other African countries.
It is time for Ghana’s Parliament to also live up to its responsibility to the electorate and enact the Right to Information Bill without any further delay. Ghana must stand up to be counted among West Africa’s democracies that have a Freedom of Information law. It is very sad that our Parliament finds various excuses for delaying the passage of the Bill. Under both the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), we have seen Bills passed under emergency at the speed of light. The Representation of the People Amendment Bill (ROPAL) was one such bill. In some situations, Parliamentarians have been recalled from recess to approve bills at an unknown cost to the tax payers of this country. The recent passage of the $3 billion Chinese loan is another of such bills.
The Right to Information Bill is more important than all these bills because the RTI legislation will help ensure that transparent processes, be they the electoral processes or procurement processes, are followed for the benefit of the majority of Ghanaians. Ghanaians need to know how loans are spent, the contracts that will be awarded, who the contracts will be awarded to and on what criteria. Transparency is clearly linked to good governance, economic growth and poverty reduction. The President has promised Ghanaians a transparent and accountable government. We cannot see this without the passage of the Right to Information Bill.
Every citizen, including members of the Executive and the Parliament, whether they belong to the ruling or opposition party, is a key stakeholder in the fight for transparency and access to information. For example, a recent report by Publish What You Pay Norway, which campaigns for transparent accounting among oil, gas and mining giants, claims that populations in resource-rich countries are losing out because they are unable to extract financial information from businesses operating on their soil or off their seaboards. Citizens are unable to hold their politicians and the companies that extract oil, gas and minerals to account because of the opaque way they operate and the use of these secrecy jurisdictions.
Admittedly, the Joint Committee on Legal, Constitutional, and Parliamentary Affairs and Communication have just completed the regional consultations. However, the Right to Information Coalition has already expressed concern about the unsatisfactory manner the regional consultations were conducted, including invitations at short notices and inadequate publicity. All the same, we hope that the consultations will enable Parliament address the gaps in the Bill some of which have been pointed out by the RTI Coalition. But, Parliament should proceed to the next stage without any further delay.
Call for Action
Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) wishes to call on our august Parliament to enact the Right to Information Bill promptly to enable Ghana to be counted among the countries that have a Freedom to Information legislation. Ghana must be the eleventh country to have a Right to Information law.
For further information, please contact:
Vitus Azeem & Linda Ofori-Kwafo
Ghana Integrity Initiative
0302-782364/5 and 0302-760884.Source: GII
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