The Coalition on the Right to Information-Ghana commended the Joint Committee on Legal, Constitutional, and Parliamentary Affairs and Communication for commencing the consultations, calling it “a sign of the Committee’s commitment to the passage of the Bill that seeks to give meaning to Article 21(1)(f) of the 1992 Constitution.”
Bu the coalition also expressed its “dismay” at the difficulty it had in obtaining the timetable for the sessions, which began in Ho July 28.
“The reason given for the refusal was that the Joint Committee had yet to finalise the schedule and, until it does, it cannot be released,” the coalition said. “The only information gathered was that the consultations were going to be held in the Volta, Eastern,
The coalition learned that for the Volta Region session, all heads of departments, public agencies and religious bodies were invited.
The Joint Committee published the timetable on July 27 in the Ghanaian Times, a day before the first consultation was to take place. Aside from this announcement, and that of the Honorable Minister, no further information was published.
The way the meetings were organized is likely to defeat the goal of consultations, thecoaltion said, citing problems such as the very short notice given, the lack of any real publicity, and the exclusion of civil society organizations as invitees in the Volta Region. Reaching the point of holding consultions took many months. (See previous FreedomInfo.org reports.)
“The Coalition therefore requests that the Joint Committee extends invitations to sufficient civil society organisations to ensure that the views of the general public– and not just public officials– are heard,” according to a statement.
Reporting on the session in Ho, the Ghana News Agency said that blanket exemptions and the fees to be charged for requests “were the major concerns raised by participants at a forum.”
“Kofi Tenasu Gbedemah, who said he represented Civil Society, argued that the outright classification of information from the President and Vice-President’s office under those exempted `cannot be justified, ‘ ” according to GNA.
“Other contributors expressed reservations about fees to be paid for requests, which they claimed hinder access to information while others called for an independent agency to administer issues under the Bill,” GNA said.
According to GNA, “While some contributors at the well-attended forum sought to fault organizers for poor publicity to the forum, officials of Parliament maintained all had been done to get to the people and that the exercise was a process which was continuing.”
CRITISICMS THE BILL MADE
Media reports from other meetings gave some flavor of the discussions about the bill.
At a meeting in Takoradi Aug. 4, GNA reported, Francis Ameyibor, an executive member of the Coalition on the Right to Information-Ghana, stressed that an independent body should be the enforcement organ of a right to information law and also serve as an appellate tribunal to which persons could turn when dissatisfied.
He said maximum disclosure is the overriding principle of any effective freedom of information law but the bill undermined with numerous exemptions.
Ameyibor also spoke at a Kumasi workshop for journalists, according to another GNA story, at which he said the chieftaincy institution should be added to the public bodies covered” by the bill. He explained that “the situation where chiefs were not legally obliged to give account of the funds and resources they held on behalf of their subjects was unacceptable,” GNA said.
“Mr. Ameyibor also raised concern about the silence of the Bill on recordkeeping, pointing out that without records the RTI would become illusory.”
Time extensions that would be allowed by the bill could delay responses, he said, also questioning the proposed fees. He questioned the justification for applicants to bear the cost for time that it takes to retrieve information and said the fee structure was not user friendly.
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