20 June 2012

Ghana set to pass access to information legislation

Cletus Avoka, majority leader in the Ghanaian Parliament, has indicated that he anticipates an access to information law will be passed next month.

Speaking at a debate organised by the Institute of Democratic Governance about the Right to Information Bill and the National Broadcasting Bill on 18 June, Avoka reportedly stated "We have completed our deliberations on the Bill. We hope that between July 1 - July 27, we would be able to lay the Bill before the President for his final approval to be passed into law."

The right to information is recognised as a fundamental right by the 1992 Constitution of Ghana and legislation to realise the practical implementation of the right was drafted in 2002, after which the bill underwent a process of public consultation before being tabled in parliament on 5 February 2010.

Given the passage of 10 years since the drafting of the bill, activists in Ghana are keen to see the bill passed as soon as possible. However, many civil society representatives have noted concerns with the current version of the bill.

The Ghana Coalition on the Right to Information has raised the following issues in respect of the current draft of the bill:
• Exemptions - some of the exemptions are too broadly formulated or repetitive, others are not linked to any sufficient harm or public interest test and some operate as blank exemptions.
• Application to private bodies - the substantive text of the bill does not cover private bodies that utilise public funds, carry out public or statutory functions, provide public services, exploit natural resources or impact on the rights and freedoms of individuals.
• Appeal mechanisms - the bill does not establish an information commissioner or similar body that could serve as an independent, accessible oversight mechanism for the implementation and enforcement of the law.
• Fees - requesters are required to pay not only for costs associated with reproduction of materials but also for time spent retrieving information and may be required to pay a deposit for such costs prior to a request being processed.
• Timelines - the timelines for responding to a request are unjustifiably long and may result in a requester waiting up to 151 days for a response to a request.
• Proactive disclosure - a clear obligation to proactively disclose information, including penalties for failure to comply with the obligation, should be included.

The need for a review of the bill was reiterated by civil society representatives that met in Ghana on 20 June. The stakeholder conference was organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa in collaboration with the Africa Freedom of Information Centre and the Ghana Coalition on the Right to Information and was attended by civil society representatives from Ghana and throughout the region.

At the conclusion of the meeting participants issued a joint statement in which they urged the Ghanaian government to consider the issues raised by the Ghana Right to Information Coalition before passing the bill, stressing the importance of strong legislation that protects and promotes the right to information, over enacting legislation quickly. The participants suggested the government aim to pass a good bill before the current parliament lapses in January 2013, rather than pushing through a weak law next month.