So I understand Mr. K. T. Hammond, Honourable Member for Adansi-Asokwa in the Ashanti Region says he is unfazed by criticism from CSO on his efforts to disrupt the passage of the RTI bill. Further he provides additional information on why he is opposed to this bill. He says that clause 17 is the “most dangerous of clauses in the bill”. The statement is further prove the honourable member does not understand the bill and does not understand the constitutional obligations that is imposed on him.
Clause 17 is what is referred to as a ‘public interest override’ or the ‘harms test’. It is present in any good RTI law and international guidelines like the AU Model Law on Access to Information. Clause 17 is saying that in spite of the fact that the law has exempted certain types of information from disclosure because of national security, privacy, public health etc, information may still be disclosed “if the benefits of disclosure outweighs the harm that would be caused if information is disclosed’. A good example is the controversy over the US-Ghana Military Cooperation Agreement. Ordinarily, it will be exempt information under the RTI law because it has to do with defence. However, the public interest it generated and the questions raised over sovereignty meant that it was in the public interest to disclose it in spite of the fact that it was exempt information. In that instance the benefits outweighs the harm of disclosure.
Why is this provision important. It is important because it affirms the principles of democratic accountability. Article 21 (1) (f) guarantees the right to information and only limited to “such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society”. All information generated in the public service belongs to the people in whom sovereignty resides. So anytime information has to be exempted from disclosure it must be in the public interest. That public interest test will have to established even when an information has been withheld. It is not a given. This is what Clause 17 does.
Lastly, as a Member of Parliament, Mr. K. T. Hammond must understand that he is under constitutional obligation to uphold and respect the Constitution under Article 12 (1) of the 1992 Constitution. So it is not a matter of choice whether to pass an RTI Bill, it is a constitutional duty. Therefore actions taken by Mr. Hammond to deny me and all Ghanaians, including himself our fundamental human rights is unacceptable and more importantly a violation of the constitution. What he should do as a Member of Parliament is to contribute his ideas to ensure the RTI Bill is credible and consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
My very last words. There are as many countries in the world including 22 African countries who have passed RTI laws and their governments have not come to a halt. In the coming days I will share more information about the benefits of the RTI law before Parliament.
Columnist: Dr. Kojo Asante