President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo made history Tuesday when he assented to the Right to Information (RTI) Act to guarantee Ghanaians the right to access public information.
It took two decades to see the birth of the law, after the bill had been drafted in 1999.
Before picking up his green ink pen to sign the act, which he described as “a significant piece of legislation”, the President declared that the law must enhance the quality of governance in the country and provide a critical tool in the fight against corruption in public life.
What happened at the Jubilee House yesterday was in fulfilment of his presidential campaign promise to bring to an end 20 years of waiting, demonstrations by interested parties, amendments in Parliament and laying and withdrawal of the bill on several occasions.
The law provides for the operationalisation of the constitutional right to information held by any public and some private institutions, subject to exemptions that are necessary and consistent with the protection of public interest in a democratic society.
It also seeks to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs and provide for related matters.
Speaking at the ceremony in his office, the President expressed his excitement that the long-awaited law had become a reality.
He said he had made a commitment that immediately the act was brought to him, he would give assent to it, which was exactly what happened yesterday.
He said the act was sent to him last Monday afternoon, adding that “but on second thought, I felt that I should sign it in the plain view of the Ghanaian people for you to know that this long-winding parliamentary process has finally come to an end”.
He said with Parliament having provided that the act come into effect in the next financial year (January 2020) because of the financial consequences in its implementation, it would offer the Finance Ministry the opportunity to make the necessary allocations to enable the law to be effective.
President Akufo-Addo commended the 7th Parliament for its courage, sense of responsibility and commitment to good governance in passing the bill into an act.
Parliament had, earlier, approved a motion which would delay the implementation of the RTI Law till the next financial year in January 2020.
Later at a press briefing, the Minister of Information, Mr Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, stated that the government was preparing a road map for the implementation of the RTI Law.
He said the implementation of the law would require the establishment of information units in all public offices, the recruitment and training of information officers to man those units, the establishment of the RTI Commission and the completion of various administrative protocols before the start of the next fiscal year.
In a reaction, the Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, described the presidential assent to the act as “a welcome piece of news” that must be embraced by all Ghanaians, reports Timothy Ngenbe.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic yesterday after President Akufo-Addo had appended his signature to the act, Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh said it was refreshing that after about 27 years, the country now had an RTI Law to consolidate democratic governance.
“The assent to the RTI Law by the President will strengthen our democracy because we will have both the votes and the voice and that is good for us,” he said.
While commending the government for a yeoman’s job done in ensuring that the bill was passed into law, he asked for more commitment to be made to ensure that the law was implemented according to the road map that had been provided.
“I want to ask that all the necessary measures, including financing, that will be provided for the fullest implementation of the law should be made available, so that when it takes off it will not be bugged down by lack of provisions or inadequate human resource,” he stressed.
He stressed that with about a year’s grace period before implementation, the government would have no excuse to delay the operationalisation of the law because “we have enough time to effectively implement it”.
Touching on concerns that were raised by some media activists about the one-year fallow period prior to the implementation of the RTI Law, he said the important thing was for all stakeholders to focus on how to ensure that the current road map for implementation was religiously followed.
Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh, a staunch advocate for media freedom, stressed that it was better to focus on what was available now and deal with the obstacles that would show up as the law was implemented.
The President of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Mr Affail Monney, also said the RTI Law had come to give deeper meaning and inestimable value to the constitutional right and sovereign entitlement of Ghanaians to receive information held on their behalf by public officials, writes Mary Mensah.
“That will certainly purify the culture of transparency, accountability and openness in government, as well as reduce the incidence of corruption,” he told the Daily Graphic.
Mr Monney said access to information was fundamental to the ability of the journalist to report factually and responsibly.
“The GJA is eternally grateful to President Nana Akufo-Addo and the current Parliament for actualising a dream which has been nursed for decades,” he said.
Coalition on RTI
In his reaction, the Chairperson of the Coalition on the Right to Information, Mr Seth Abloso, welcomed the President’s assent to the RTI Act, describing it as a “welcome development”, reports Caroline Boateng.
He said the coalition did not have all the changes it campaigned for, “but it has been fine so far”.
“It is a day to remember in Ghana’s democratic march as the day on which the RTI Act was assented to,” he added.
Mr Abloso said it would be prudent to wait and find out if what was passed in Parliament in March 2019 was exactly what was assented to by the President.
He said following the assent, one of the critical things to be done was the passage of a legislative instrument (LI) to operationalise the law.
He added that although the law was to take effect in 2020, nothing prevented journalists or citizens from accessing information critical to their work or endeavours.
That was because the right was already confered by the Constitution, he emphasised.