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General News of Thursday, 19 January 2017

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RTI fiasco: Blame Mahama – Coalition

Blame Mahama for not passing the Right To Information (RTI) law Blame Mahama for not passing the Right To Information (RTI) law

The failure of the sixth parliament in passing the Right To Information (RTI) law should be blamed on the erstwhile John Mahama administration, Ugonna Ukaigwe, Coordinator for the Right to Information Coalition, Ghana, has said.

According to her, a lot of resources, time and energy were committed by veracious stakeholders as support for the passage of the bill. However, there was not much commitment on the side of government in getting the bill passed.

A statement issued by Mrs Ukaigwe said: “In the year 2012, the NDC government came into power with a promise in their manifesto that the RTI Bill would be passed into law. The promises did not end only in the manifesto but were also re-echoed in the State of the Nation address on the floor of parliament at various international (UN) programmes and events as well as on discussion programmes in the media both locally and internationally.

“The president categorically stated in one of his many speeches that ‘my government will be reckoned for passing the oldest bill in parliament’ but after eight years in leadership, the government could not deliver on this promise. Many observers, both at home and abroad, have expressed their disappointment at the failure by the past government to pass this legislation particularly because the administration had several opportunities to pass the bill but preferred to wait till the dying minutes. Speaking on Newsfile on 24th December, 2016, about his low points for the year 2016, the Editor-in-Chief of the New Crusading Guide Newspaper, Mr Kweku Baako Jnr. Stated: ‘I will be damn damn disappointed if the RTI Bill is not passed by this parliament.’ Similarly, at the Fourth Global Summit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) held in Paris, France from 7th-9th December, 2016, it was observed rather sadly, that Ghana’s five-year participation in the OGP process could not deliver the passage of the RTI law unlike in Kenya and Tanzania.”

The statement added: “The failure to pass this legislation by the outgoing administration is particularly disheartening given the amount of resources, time and energy that was committed to its review and consideration processes by the 6th Parliament, in addition to the fact that a new parliament under the new administration will have to commence fresh processes to enable the passage of the bill, processes which may not be completed within the first four years.

“To better appreciate the efforts by the 6th Parliament and the NDC-led administration to pass the RTI Bill into law, it will be useful to recount the events that took place from 2013, after the NDC won the 2012 elections. On 12th November, 2013, President Mahama tabled the RTI Bill 2013 before the 6th Parliament. Upon introduction in parliament, the bill was referred to the Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. The Committee held two meetings (in May and September 2014) with key stakeholders to review the content of the Bill and make recommendations for consideration by Parliament. Three months later, precisely on 17th December, 2014, the Select Committee tabled its report in Parliament with proposals for the amendment of all the problematic clauses identified by stakeholders. Following pressure from civil society, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Mrs. Marrieta Brew Appiah-Opong, on 25th June, 2015 (Six months after the Committee tabled its report) moved the motion for the second reading of the Bill. The second reading was concluded on 24th July, 2015 and the Bill was referred to the next stage in the Parliamentary process - the Consideration stage.

“The consideration of the Bill witnessed even slower progress than previous stages. Parliament could not commence the consideration process until March 2016, (eight months after the conclusion of the second reading). Discussions on the bill witnessed several distractions and setbacks including the introduction by government of a new bill – the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Messages Bill 2016 (otherwise known as Spy Bill), a bill which was nearly passed but for the public outcry. Consideration of the RTI Bill continued in May and October 2016 during the second and third sessions of parliament respectively. In October specifically, the AG withdrew the old bill and tabled a revised bill (RTI Bill 2016) making the consideration and passage of the bill much easier than it previously was. The AG specifically requested in writing to parliament to consider the bill under a certificate of urgency. Following her request, the new bill was immediately referred to the Parliamentary Select Committee and the Committee, with a sense of urgency, completed its review processes and submitted its report within three days. But these notwithstanding, parliament could not complete the consideration processes to enable the passage of the Bill before 7th January, 2017.

“These commendable efforts by the 6th Parliament should ordinarily have been commended by all Ghanaians particularly those who have been following the discourse and advocacy on RTI, but this is not the case. The failure to pass the Bill for eight years and the last minute push by MPs from the majority side, including the first ever public plea by the outgoing president for the passage of the bill, appeared to have irritated many, particularly MPs from the opposition, who suddenly realised that having won the 2016 elections, they now have an opportunity to make global history and therefore became very unwilling to let their opponents take that glory.

“Having had the opportunity for eight years to pass the most valuable anti-corruption tool without success, how will anti-corruption crusaders and the international community rate President Mahama’s performance as one-time president of Ghana? In discussing Ghana’s anti-corruption agenda and achievements, what will the 6th Parliament and the NDC-led administration be remembered for? Clearly, it will not be as they had promised ‘the government that passed the oldest bill in Parliament’.”