President Akufo Addo was spot on when he declared that the Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2019 (Act 989), was the mother of all anti-corruption laws. The 1992 Constitution, article 21, commanded its passage. Strangely, however, it took some two decades of a vigorous sustained campaign to get it passed.
It was not handed to the people by the benevolence of a government. Citizens forced its passage. The politicians disregarded the Constitution’s command for over two decades and did everything to ensure it will remain only a bill in one parliament after the other; they do not deserve the praise they seek for the RTI law.
In fact, it was nearly botched in Mike Oquaye’s 7th Parliament the same way it was sabotaged at the 11th hour in Doe Adjaho’s 6th Parliament.
Even the MPs who disliked it, rightly interpreted the public anger, speaking in support of it but only when the cameras were on them. Some kept quiet while working at it grudgingly. Kwabena Tahir Hammond was candid about openly opposing it insisting RTI will burden government and leave it with no secrets. I own a full compilation of parliamentary debates on the bill from start to finish.
RTI by our Constitution is a fundamental human right. This means we are not merely entitled and given by the State, but we are entitled to it as a matter of our natural God-given birthright as humans.
The CDD, GII and RTI Coalition doing the final push to it passed, got me to join the forefront, making presentations, interacting with MPs and literally forcing and policing their work on the bill every day until it was dusted.
I observed mentors and consummate human rights and good governance activists like Akoto Ampaw refuse to give up on the campaign despite the years of frustration.
The Media Foundation for West Africa, the biggest user of the law so far, mobilised lawyers and RTI experts to travel the country to sensitize journalists and duty-bearers on the law. In one session in Tamale, participating officeholders realised and admitted the law will rather get their constituents better informed to support them succeed. They spoke about how it will curb the situation where wrong information and half-truths are told to destroy them and their institutions.
The Ministry of Information worked to ensure hundreds of information officers were recruited and trained for a smooth implementation of the law.
An RTI Commission that has demonstrated admirable fidelity to the law, has been robust in enforcing compliance sanctioning institutions like the Police, Fire Service and Minerals Commission for frustrating people from accessing information.
Please, do not make a mockery of the struggle and beautiful project the way the Council of State has sought to do, or the Ministry of Health did recently when information on the promised Agenda 111 Hospitals was sought by Joy FM.
The Director of Finance and Administration at the Council who was elected to perform the function of Information Officer delivered information requested by Metro TV with the speed of light, but dishonourably denied Togbe Afede’s aide the same information several days after an official request.
Dear Stephen Blay, I am tempted to conclude you were deliberate in misreading, misinterpreting and misapplying the rather plain provisions of the law in directing a requester to contact another requester for information sought.
Section 21 you quoted means exactly that – if the information requested is already contained in “an official publication held by another public institution”, then a requester may be directed to that other public institution to access that official publication.
You see, by law, some public institutions like the NCA and OPS are mandated to make official publications within certain times of the year. If a request is made and the institution is preparing to publish that information within 90 days of receipt of that request, it is only a matter of commonsense that the requester is asked to wait for the publication – that’s called deferred access. Some public institutions do proactive rather than reactive disclosure of public information – they have bulletins and other publications or reports, so it is common sense that people are simply directed to those official sources of the information sought.
This provision applies where the information sought is HELD BY and not information SUPPLIED TO another requester. It is not for nothing that this comes right after the provision that directs that an information holder (i.e. a public institution), ought to transfer a request or direct the requester to another public institution with custody or control of information sought.
The Council of State is the holder or public institution with custody of the information sought. All you had to do was to supply the information you had prepared and given to the first requester if it was the same information sought by another requester. A requester must get the information from proper custody or source.
The era where public officers treated information generated by their institutions as though it were their private or family property is over. Public institutions generate information for and on behalf of the public, in their name and for their welfare, and must disclose the same under compulsion of law unless the information sought is exempt information.
It must be stressed that if the information requested is information in the public interest, it must be supplied free of charge as commanded in section 75.
Public institutions must also not use references to any other laws or rules or policies to regulate how they deal with a request because, by section 85, the RTI law overrides all other laws on the disclosure of information.
Let each and everyone help make this democracy work for THE PEOPLE in whom reside and from whom sovereignty (ultimate power) springs. That’s My Take.
Credit: Samson Lardy ANYENINI