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Feature Article of Thursday, 8 May 2014

Columnist: Laary Dasmani Issifu

The SADA saga: A case for Right to Information legislation

Evil, thrives in secrecy and uninformed society is an easy prey for gross exploitation and mass abuses by corrupt leaders.

Such is the case with the Savannah Accelerated Development (SADA) saga. In 2010, in satisfaction of governments desire to establish a body that will spearhead the development agenda in the Northern part of Ghana, the SADA law (Act 805, 2010) was passed and subsequently the Authority was inaugurated to begin work to alleviate poverty in the north.

For those who initiated the process, SADA was supposed to offer a quick fix to the problems of the north, such as unemployment, poor road network, ailing agriculture, environmental degradation, high illiteracy rate, to mention but a few.

Two years after SADA was put in place, the institution became compromised with failed projects, incompetent leadership and questionable contractual agreements.

Reports from the media revealed that contracts were awarded under the project to various companies and individuals, to facilitate the process of bringing salvation to the deprived beneficial regions, without putting in place proper mechanisms that will ensure accountability.

Media reports also indicate that consultants were selected without due diligence leading to the loss of a whooping sum of £279,684.76 (equivalent Ghc839,054.28) and Ghc364,594.76 totalling (Ghc1,059,649.04) on consultancy services.

The alleged rot at SADA brings to the limelight the importance of an effective access to information legislation to a democratic society. Despite the provisions of Article 21(1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution, the Ghanaian government has for over a decade now been hesitant to give Ghanaians the tool that will ensure their exercise of democratic control over public institutions.

Efforts by the Civil Society Organisation Coalition on the Right to Information (RTI Coalition) to get Parliament to pass the Bill into law have not yielded the needed result.

One of the benefits that an effective legislation on access to information would have brought in the face of the SADA saga is an early detection of corrupt practises that may have happened within SADA.

An effective access to information law could empower Ghanaians to monitor the contracts that were awarded and the contractors involved before monies were paid out.

Except for what was being bandied by the news media; Ghanaians had no official means of knowing how public resources allocated to the SADA project were being managed.

An Access to information legislation would have made it mandatory for SADA to proactively disclose information on all contracts awarded and keep records of all transactions carried out to enable public scrutiny.

It is true that there is some level of proactive disclosure in public institutions but the question is; what kind of information is being released and how timely is the information.

An effective access to information legislation will prevent over reliance on media reports of corrupt practises, which is sometimes selective and often belated, usually after monies have been squandered.

What is most disturbing in this accountability charade is that successive governments always declare war against corruption without paying attention to the effective weapon that will help in winning the battle.

How can we win the battle against corruption when access to information is not our priority?

The RTI Coalition has therefore called on Parliament to review the Access to Information Bill currently before they Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

The Coalition is convinced that when the Bill is reviewed to meet international standards, it will go a long way in helping to win the war against corruption.

“We, therefore, urge the...public to add their voice in calling our Parliamentarians to fast track the work on the Bill. It is our hope that the Ghana government has learnt its lessons from the SADA experience,” said RTI Coalition, Ghana.

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