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General News of Thursday, 31 January 2019


Contention over commencement date delaying passage of RTI bill – MP

A controversial amendment to the Right to Information Bill proposed by the Member of Parliament for Suhum, Frederick Opare-Ansah, is the only outstanding matter that is holding up the passage of the bill.

The amendment says the RTI bill should have a commencement clause which will allow it to only take effect 12 months after it has been passed by Parliament, and assented to by the President.

This was disclosed by Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ben Abdallah.

The Suhum MP according to Abdallah, believes that the twelve-month period will give state institutions enough time to set up the needed agencies to handle queries from the public.

Speaking to Citi News’ Duke Mensah Opoku in Parliament on Wednesday, Ben Abdallah, said the matter has been directed at the leadership of the House to decide the fate of the commencement clause.

“We are almost done with the consideration aspect of it; we are left with only one clause which is the commencement clause. It has to do with when the bill should start operationalizing. The proposal is that, to the extent that offices would have to be set up, information officers would have to be appointed, information would have to be generated, kept and stored in a proper manner which will take time, the Member of Parliament for Suhum was of the view that we should operationalize this bill after the expiry of twelve month period.”

Ben Abdallah, who said he’s not for or against the commencement clause, explained that there would still be the need for time for the bill to take effect.

“Personally, I am in-between, much as we want information given to the public as quickly as possible, there are certain challenges we have taken into consideration which I have already enumerated. All these will take a little time. So to say as soon as the bill is passed it must be assented to and it must begin to operationalize, that will bring undue pressure and hardship upon the existing public institutions. The Speaker has decided that we should revert to the leadership of the House as to whether the twelve-month period is okay or not,” he added.

But the Ranking Member of the Committee, Inusah Fuseini, disagreed with the commencement date proposal.

To him, the bill must take immediate effect after it is assented to by the president when it is finally passed by Parliament.

“The commission is a commission which is established pursuant to the bill. We will not establish anything. It will be a review body. Information is already there, [in fact] it is generated every day. Is our focus the citizen or the institution? I believe that the focus of this bill is to empower the individual to access information. There should not be a commencement clause. It’s a policy decision,” he argued.

There have been several failed promises by various political figures who served in successive governments regarding the passage of the bill, which has been on the table for close to two decades.

The back and forth

The Right to Information Bill was first drafted in 1999 under former president, Jerry John Rawlings.

Various advocacy groups emerged to press for the immediate passing of the bill into law in 2002 and reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) in its 2008 and 2012 election manifestos promised to ensure the Bill was passed. In 2010, it was presented to Parliament for consideration.

In 2011, the government signed unto the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Initiative with a commitment to pass the law. In November 2013, the Bill was formally laid before parliament.

Former Attorney General, Deputy Dominic Ayine in 2015, moved the Bill for second reading in Parliament. In October 2016, the Bill was withdrawn and replaced with a new one which was immediately laid.

Following the dissolution of the Sixth Parliament of the Fourth Republic and the swearing-in of new Parliament in January 2017, the Bill had to be re-laid by the new government before work commences on it.

A media coalition group put pressure on Parliament before it went on recess for the passage of the bill.

RTI Bill will be passed by end of February 2019 – Oquaye

The Speaker of Parliament, Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye, has set a new deadline for the passage of the Right to Information Bill.

He said the Bill will be passed by the end of February 2019.

The speaker gave the indication during his closing address before the House went on break for Christmas in 2018.

“The bill has seen several years and several parliaments and it is tricky in many ways. The budget and other important matters also came our way. We have done 80% of the work already and we will finish the bill fully I believe and professionally on or before the end of February 2019.”