The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) cautiously welcomes the passing of the Right to Information (RTI) Bill into law by the Parliament of Ghana and calls for continued engagement on its implementation.
The Law, which seeks to operationalise Article 21 (1) (f) of the Constitution that guarantees the right to information, was passed on March 26, 2019, 19 years after the process began. As a piece of legislation intended to promote accountability and enhance the fight against corruption, the passing of the RTI law, which was first drafted in 1999, is certainly a positive development.
With the passage of the law, Ghana has moved closer to correcting a fundamental flaw in its anti-corruption and good governance legal framework. It also fulfills a longstanding commitment under the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Initiative signed by the government in 2011.
We, therefore, commend the leadership and members of Parliament, the media, the Media Coalition on RTI, the Ghana RTI Coalition and other citizens who played various roles in getting the RTI bill passed.
We wish to caution, however, that the real test is in the implementation of the law, and therefore, urge all stakeholders to remain alert. This caution is particularly appropriate because of the provision deferring the implementation of the law to the beginning of the 2020 financial year without detailing the timelines for putting in place the necessary structures and administrative systems for its effective realisation, as demanded by the Media Coalition on RTI.
The above concern, together with Article 13 which protects deliberative processes from disclosure under the RTI, constitutes a pitfall that needs to be watched and worked at going forward.
It is obvious that coming 19 years after it was first put before Parliament, amidst several back-and-forths and missed deadlines spanning three Parliaments, the law has been delivered grudgingly. Consequently, it is the view of the MFWA that the public, civil society organisations and the media will have to follow the implementation process with the same vigilance and outspoken campaigns to prevent the RTI law from becoming a piece of legislative white elephant.
The RTI experience in Burkina Faso is a typical example of politicians appeasing public demands for access to information with a half-baked law. Four years after the Transitional Administration in that country passed a framework RTI Law no.051-2015/CNT, it is yet to be made functional, because a promised subsidiary legislation to operationalise it is yet to be passed.
Sometimes too, when good laws are passed, its implementation is frustrated by a lack of commitment on the part of public officers accustomed to the old ways of secrecy.
In the light of the Burkinabe experience and the fact that many other African countries have adopted RTI Laws that have made very little impact in promoting accountable and transparent governance, we reiterate the need for continued engagement on the outstanding issues about Ghana’s RTI Law. Consequently, we call on the media keep a strong focus on the implementation processes and to educate the public about their rights under the law.