Right to Information Law: a framework to combat corruption?

Dear Editor,

Over the years, journalists, civil society and anti-corruption advocates have campaigned for the passage of the Right to Information (RTI) Bill and argued that the inexistence of the law inhibits people from knowing what is happening in public institutions, and this breeds corruption.

Even though the right to information is a basic right enshrined in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, it took decades for the country to promulgate the RTI to provide the legal framework for the implementation of the constitutional right to access information from public institutions.

After years of long winding parliamentary processes, the bill was finally passed on March 26, 2019 and assented to by President Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo on May 21, 2019.

The Act explains the procedures for access to official information, and also highlights some exemptions.

From section five (5) to 17 of the RTI Act, 2019 (Act 989) is about information exempted from the Act, which include information for the President, Vice President or Cabinet.

Others are related to public safety, law enforcement, economic information of third parties, personal matters, parliamentary privilege, issues affecting international relations and security of the state.

Just like other critics of the Act, I also hold the view that some of the exemptions raise question over whether or not sections of the law could be a deliberate cover up for wrongdoings of public institutions or governments.

For instance, the section 10(f) in the Act exempts the disclosure of information where “the information contains questions or methodology to be used in an examination, recruitment or selection process and the release is likely to jeopardise the integrity of that examination, recruitment or selection process.”

Despite the use of public safety as an excuse to conceal wealth of public information, the Act recognises the principle of utility as it is stated in the section 17 (1) that, if the benefits of disclosure of the information outweigh the harm that disclosure will cost and it is of public interest, then the information is not exempted from disclosure.

Persons who have taken a closer look at the Act suggest there are too many exemptions that do not provide an enabling environment to assess public institutions and subject them to proper scrutiny to help fight corruption.

Even as public education on the law is gathering momentum, there have been calls for a review of the exemptions in the Act. Those that do not qualify the “harm and public interest” test be expunged.

Meanwhile, Parliament was yet to approve fees applicable to the request of public information under the Act. That must also be fast tracked.

Cinderella Arhinful-Mensah

Student, Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ)

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