The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) joins the rest of the World to commemorate International Right to Information Day, a day of activism to raise awareness about the importance of the right of Access to Information (ATI).
As a fundamental human right, the right to information – to seek, access and receive information, allows access by the general public to data held by national governments. It establishes a legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions. It is a human right guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 4 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.
The world has seen progressive improvements in the adoption of Access to Information laws with only 12 countries worldwide in 1990 to about 100 countries having such laws today. In Africa, the 2014 report by the African Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) indicates that only 13 of the 54 countries have adopted national Access to Information laws with six of these in the West Africa region: Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Niger.
Despite the slow but steady progress in the adoption of FOI/ATI laws in the West Africa region, it is worth mentioning that this handful is challenged with implementation while other countries such as Ghana have also lagged in the adoption of the law for over a decade; largely due to an absence of political will, human and financial resources and technical expertise.
It is widely acknowledged that the centrality of access to information lies in its importance in the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and in advancing democratic values and accountability and sustainable development. As the world celebrates Right to Information 2014 thus, the MFWA adds its voice to calls for the passage of FOI/ATI in countries that currently do not have in order to advance the course of right of access to government information, open, transparent and accountable governance.
Headquartered in Ghana, and a member of the country’s Right to Information Coalition, the MFWA is particularly worried about the delay in amending and passing the bill into law as it constitutes a betrayal of public trust in the institution of parliament. We therefore urge Ghana’s parliament to expedite action on the bill as it facilitates the public’s constitutional right to information and also conforms to international standards and best practices most of which Ghana is a signatory to.