The Right to Information (RTI) Bill, first drafted in 1999, was proposed to promote transparency and fight corruption.
Five administrations and 20 years later, Parliament finally passed the law – a step in the right direction – but according to Samson Lardy Anyenini, the main speaker at a Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) forum held on November 21, 2019, that’s only half the battle.
Under the theme “A Forum on the Newly Passed Right to Information (RTI) Law for Media Practitioners,” Anyenini, a high-profile journalist and seasoned lawyer, argued that implementation of the law has stalled, adding that the slow deployment from government to roll out the law has become a burden for citizens who need access to information.
“There was supposed to be a roadmap following the passage of the bill,” Anyenini lamented. “It is a rare situation where we pass a law and we suspend operations for one year. It’s disappointing.”
Meanwhile, many others who require access to information are uninformed about the ways in which to retrieve it; another problem journalists and lawyers fought so hard to counteract. To combat these challenges, Anyenini walked participants through the proper protocols to request and access information. Knowing your “fundamental rights,” he advised, is critical in holding leaders accountable and eliminating secrecy within the governance of Ghana.
The MFWA has highlighted key points made during Samson Anyenini’s presentation where he guided participants on five things to know about your right to information:
Know your Right to Access Information
It is the responsibility of the government to make available general information on governance and any person applying for information may do so without giving reason, according to the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana. A person is at liberty to apply for information without giving a reason for the application. “Where an applicant requests that the application be treated as urgent, the applicant shall state the reason for the urgency,” reads Act 1 subsection 4 of the RTI Law.
Know Who to Contact within the Organisation
Before requesting information from a Department or Ministry, it helps to know exactly who you must consult to receive the information you request. For many institutions, the data you need will come from an information officer. When submitting an application, request for the information officer’s name, position and contact information, “indicate the form and manner of access required and state the capacity of the applicant to the satisfaction of the information officer to whom the application is made.”
Know the Time Limits
An information officer has 14 days to determine the status of your application. If your request has been denied, you are entitled to appeal the decision under sections 31-39 of the RTI Law. The information officer’s immediate supervisor will review the appeal, known as an “internal review.” If access to the information is still denied, you are legally entitled to request for an RTI Commission, a body that will be established to promote, monitor, protect and enforce your right to information.
Know What You Do Not Have Access to
The following information is exempt from public access:
• Information submitted or prepared for submission to the President or the Vice President
• Information submitted or prepared for submission to Cabinet
• Information whose disclosure can reasonably disrupt, endanger, impede or interfere with law enforcement and public safety
• Information whose disclosure can reasonably affect the security of the state
• Information whose disclosure can reasonably affect international relations
• Economic information and any other interests prior to official publication
• Economic information of third parties
• Information whose disclosure can reasonably infringe on Parliamentary privilege, prejudice fair trial, constitute contempt of court
• Privileged information
• Information on personal matters/Personal Information
Know When to Pay – and When Not to Pay
Any applicant requesting information must pay a fee approved by Parliament in accordance with the Fees and Charges Act of 2009. If the information needed is in another language, another fee can be imposed. No fees or charges should be payable for the reproduction of the following:
• the reproduction of personal information of the applicant;
• the reproduction of personal information of a person on whose behalf an application is made;
• the reproduction of information which is in the public interest;
• information that should have been provided within the stipulated time under this Act;
• information to an applicant who is indigent;
• information to a person with disability;
• time spent by an information officer or information reviewing
• officer in reviewing the information requested;
• time spent by an information officer or information reviewing officer in examining whether the information requested is exempt information;
• or preparing the information for which access is to be provided.
*This event is one in a series of regional forums on the RTI for the Media and Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCE). The events run from Thursday, November 21, 2019 – Thursday, November 27, 2019. All forums are supported by the Deutche Welle Akademie.
Below are photos from the event in Accra
Samson Anyenini, Lawyer, at A-Partners@Law
Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director, MFWA