We find this necessary as a result of certain events that make us doubt the assurances we have received that the Parliamentary Select Joint Committee has adopted most of the views of the public on amendments to the Bill and the further assurance from the Majority Leader of Parliament, Hon. Cletus Avoka, that the Bill will be passed into law before Parliament goes on recess at the end of July.
It will be recalled that the RTI Bill was first laid before Parliament on 5th February 2010. It was only in July-August 2011, however, that the Select Joint Committee on Communications and Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs held its regional consultations to collect the views of the Ghanaian public on the Bill.
It is significant to note that to date the Joint Committee has been unable to produce a report on its regional consultations. This is so even though the production of the report has in the past been given as one of the reasons holding back the processes leading to the passage of the Bill into law. Indeed, at its meeting held on 10th March 2012 to consider the outcome of the regional consultations, the Joint Committee had to rely on a summary produce by officials of the World Bank on the main issues raised by the public during the regional consultation. The Joint Committee, after discussing the issues raised in the summary produced by the World Bank, decided that it needed further technical input on those issues and therefore requested that the Coalition produce an ‘Option Paper/Zero Draft’ involving specific amendments on these issues for its consideration. The issues identified were: (i) Exemptions; (ii) Private Bodies; (iii) An Independent Information Commission; (iv) Fees; (v) Accountability measures for collecting and managing internally generated funds; (vi) Appeal Process; and (vii) Declassification of Information. Somehow, the Joint Committee omitted the question of timelines for disclosure of information upon request, a matter that was a major issue throughout the regional consultations.
On its part, therefore, the Coalition submitted a thirty -page document, named Option Paper/Zero Draft to the Joint Committee on 21st May 2012on specific amendments to the Bill.
Before then, when the Coalition organized a march to Parliament to press home the need to treat the passage of the Bill into law with urgency, the Majority Leader, Hon. Cletus Avoka, responded by saying that Parliament would not be “stampeded into passing the law”. More recently, in the evening news of Joy FM on 7th May under pressure from the Coalition and the mass media, Hon. Cletus Avoka stated to the amazement of Ghanaians that the RTI Bill was “not a priority” of Parliament. This statement by the Majority Leader only served to increase public pressure for the passage of the Bill, with the necessary amendments, into law.
Despite several requests by the Coalition to the Joint Committee to inform it of their findings on the regional consultations or the Zero Draftno documents were provided to us. During a forum on the RTI organized by the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG) on 18th June 2012, the Majority Leader under intense pressure from the audience promised that Parliament would pass the RTI Bill into law before it went on recess at the end of July 2012.
The Coalition continued to request a meeting with the Joint Committee on the Committee’s consideration of the proposals in the ‘Option Paper/Zero Draft’. Finally, the Joint Committee invited the Steering Committee of the Coalition to a meeting at Parliament House on 22nd June 2012.
At this meeting, the Joint Committee informed us that it had accepted most of our proposals in the Option Paper/Zero Draft during a workshop of the Committee in Koforidua on 16th and 17th June and further that in some cases it had even improved upon some of our proposals.
The following points were then discussed and agreed on in that meeting:
The Joint Committee said that they had taken the proposals in the Option Paper into consideration and accordingly removed whole sections from the Bill;
The Joint Committee agreed that applicants should not bear the costs of poor-record keeping and therefore should only be charged for the actual production of the information (i.e. the print-out), not for the time it takes to obtain it;
The Joint Committee informed the Coalition that the proposed timeline to decide on an application of 14days was too long in their opinion and that they had therefore even shortened it;
- Independent Information Commission
The views here differed. Whereas the Joint Committee generally agreed onthe necessity of an independent implementation body, it suggested CHRAJ for this role; the Coalition, however, was of the opinion that even though CHRAJ was carrying out its mandate in a commendable fashion, it would not be advisable to add the mandate of oversight and implementation of a right to information regime to itsthree-pronged mandate (anti-corruption, human rights, ombudsman), as it was already burdened with these functions. The Coalition argued that,considering the massive challenge that oversight and implementation of a right to information law involved,what was required was a new and independent Commission altogether and that adding this function to CHRAJ’s existing mandate was the surest way of weakening the enforcement of a right to information regime in the country.
- Appeal process
The Joint Committee agreed withthe Coalition’s view that the Supreme Court as the second and last instance of appeal would be a deterrent for most Ghanaians and therefore suggested that the if the applicant is not happy with the decision of the a Minister, inthe first instance, that individual can appeal to the Independent information Commission. If the Commissioner finds in favor of the citizen and the Minister is unhappy, the Minister can go the Supreme Court as the last instance.
At the end of the meeting, the Chairman promised the Coalition that itwould be provided with a list of those proposals from the Zero Draft that the Committee had adopted by the end of the following week (29th June) and that the Joint Committee would see to the presentation of the amended Bill to Parliamentbefore going on recess at the end of July.
On 5th July the Coalition was asked to collect a letter from the Joint Committee on the Committee’s views on the Zero Draft.
This letter consisted of three pages and contained merely three (3) clausesfrom the Zero Draftwhich the Joint Committee had adopted. Incredibly, of these three clauses, only one dealt with a substantive proposal in the Zero Draft.
There was no mention of the clauses discussed and which we were made to believe had been agreed on with the Coalition during the meeting of 22nd June 2012; and not a word on those clauses, which the Joint Committee had apparently assured us had been adopted at its meeting in Koforidua on 16th - 17th June, save perhaps the clause on fees.
The letter did not indicate whether the Joint Committee would inform the Coalition about other proposed amendments, if any, we could expect the Committee to adopt or how soon the Committee would present its final report to the full House of Parliament for consideration and passage into law before Parliament went on recess.
We need to emphasize that the Coalition does not expect the Joint Committee necessarily to adopt every one of its proposals. We however expect that the Committee will be true to the assurances it gives.
Due to the latest developments, the Coalition is now under the impression that the Joint Committee has acted in bad faith in its dealings with the Coalition.
On Friday 13th July 2012, Joy FM broadcast a statement of the Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Emmanuel Bandua, in which he claimed that - despite the public’s perception that Parliament would not pass the Bill - the Joint Committee was intending to lay the Bill before Parliament for consideration but was being delayed in its proceedings by outstanding input from CHRAJ.
Meanwhile, CHRAJ had already raised its concerns regarding the proposal to take on the additional role of an Independent Information Commission to the Joint Committee. Despite these concerns, the Joint Committee continued their pressure on CHRAJ by asking them to develop ideas on necessary mechanisms for implementation in case they were to be provided with additional funding.
The Coalition considers this new twist most disturbing.
Given that Parliament has only two weeks to go on recess at the end of this month, we are greatly concerned.
Either, the promises made by the Majority Leader and the Chairman of the Joint Committee will not be kept, or, if the promises are kept, this will be done to the detriment of the RTI Bill, which, if passed at this stage, would not contain the necessary amendments as suggested by the Coalition and therefore rather undermine the right and access to information.
We urge the Joint Committee to inform the people of Ghana on the following urgent issues:
1. Whether /and which further content-related proposals of the Zero Draft have been accepted by the Joint Committee or are the three clauses in the letter of 5th July to the Coalition the only substantive amendments to the Bill?
2. Will the Coalition be provided with a list of all the other amended provisions as agreed by the Joint Committee in Koforidua – and if so, when?
3. When will the Joint Committee be in a position to provide a version of the Bill to Parliament that meets the needs and demands of the people of Ghana, for the second reading?
We call on Parliament to keep the various promises made to us.
We wish to alert the general public against any attempt to pass a right to information law without the necessary amendments that will guarantee citizens the genuine right of access to information as provided for in the Constitution.
We hereby wish to serve Parliament with notice that we shall campaign against any restrictive right to information Bill, such as the current RTI Bill.
We call on you, the good people of Ghana, to ask your MPs whether they intend to meet their constitutional obligation to pass a RTI law in Ghana; whether they take you seriously in your demand for a law that meets human rights and international best practice standards; or whether they are simply playing for time, leaving it for the next government and Parliament to deal with your concerns.
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