It took over two decades for Parliament to pass the Right to Information (RTI) law, a bill that would allow the public access to information. In one month, the law will be implemented but is government prepared? In this piece, the MFWA looks into whether the nation is ready for its implementation in addition to recommendations to ensure the process rolls out smoothly.
On September 25, 2019, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) engaged civil society actors, Government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs), academia, media and the general public in a public discourse on the Right to Information (RTI) Law. The event formed part of the MFWA’s project aimed at deepening access to information and participatory governance. But more importantly, the event presented a platform to discuss government’s plans towards the implementation of the RTI in Ghana.
Indeed, persistence and resiliency characterises Ghana’s journey towards the passing of the RTI Bill into Law. In 1999, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) drafted the first RTI Bill. This was reviewed three times; in 2003, 2005 and 2007, before it was presented to Parliament in 2010. Following some recommendations made on the draft, the Bill was withdrawn, reworked and resubmitted to Parliament in 2018. Throughout the Fourth Republic, the RTI bill had been in and out of Parliament until it was eventually passed into law on March 26, 2019.
For a country that has gone through several years of advocacy, before having the RTI law passed, it is only prudent that the momentum around the law and its implementation is maintained by ensuring that every action, every structure and every policy required for its operationalisation is not only put in place, but also, such efforts are made in earnest. It was therefore highly commended when Government of Ghana, through the Ministry of Information announced a roadmap almost immediately following the passage of the Bill to guide its implementation.
Thus, according to the roadmap, before the end of December 2019, the Ministry of Information being the lead implementer of the RTI law, would have completed a nationwide sensitisation campaign, set up the RTI Commission and appointed a Commissioner. Additionally, it would have secured the necessary financial and logistical support, and together with the Office of the Head of Civil Service (OHCS) recruited information officers to facilitate the implementation processes. However, with only a few days to the end of the year, one is tempted to ask if the timelines given for the operationalisation is one that can be met and whether government is on track vis-à-vis the roadmap? Below are some of the issues at hand.
Government’s Momentum Around the RTI
There is no doubt that the roadmap presents a convincing and determined approach for the take-off of the RTI Law’s implementation. Having started with a stakeholder engagement, the roadmap gives holistic timelines to the operatonalisation of the law. However, from the roadmap, a number of outstanding activities and issues are yet to be addressed. For instance, the issue of dates set for the implementation of key activities on the roadmap vis-à-vis what has been met is low. As it stands now, only a few training sessions have been conducted to sensitise key officials on the RTI. The remaining set of activities earmarked to sensitise relevant stakeholders about the RTI law are yet to take place.
Institutional and Infrastructural Pre-requisite for the Efficient Administration of the RTI Law
Membership of the RTI Commission and its Secretariat is another essential element to ensure the effective and efficient operationalisation of the RTI law. In a speech read on behalf of the Information Minister during the forum organised by the MFWA, he hinted that Government was soon going to appoint the RTI Commissioner. He added that the appointment which would be before the end of October, is part of the roadmap for the implementation of the RTI Act. Unfortunately, the appointment of the Commissioner and the establishment of the RTI Commission and its constitutions have not seen the light of day.
Funding of the RTI Architecture
Lawyer Akoto Ampaw, renowned legal practitioner and ardent advocate of the RTI law in Ghana, once said that the best way to stall the operationalisation of the RTI law is to starve it of the necessary logistical and financial resources. Although there has been room made in the 2020 budget to implement the law, it is not clear when this budget allocation will be available to address the necessary infrastructural and financial deficits for the full take-off of implementation activities. Up until now, government has not disclosed the actual cost for the implementation. Unfortunately, for a law that seeks to do away with opaqueness in governance, citizens have been left in oblivion on how much, and when the necessary financial resources will be available to operationalise the RTI.
Nationwide Sensitisation Campaign
Although the Ministry of Information has done some sensitisation for Chief Directors and Regional Coordinating Directors on the RTI law, the effort has not expanded to cover citizens, who are the overall beneficiaries of the law.
While the MFWA commends government for kick-starting this process, it is concerned about the slow pace of work and urges government to scale-up the processes in line with timelines indicated in order to make the RTI law fully operational by January 2020. The MFWA also calls on the media to engage the public on the RTI law by using their platforms to run discussions around the RTI law. This initiative will greatly complement government’s efforts towards a nationwide sensitisation campaign.
Additionally, the MFWA encourages government to engage the services of the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE) in the sensitisation processes.
The MFWA also urges the media coalition on the RTI to develop further strategies for advocacy on the implementation of the law. This will keep the momentum high to ensure effective operatonalisation of the law.
Finally, the MFWA entreats government to fast-track the constitution of the RTI Commission and the appointment of a competent Commissioner to run the Commission.
Written By: Adizatu Moro Maiga, Programme Officer, Media, Good Governance and Democracy