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Opinions of Monday, 18 July 2016

Columnist: Abdulai, Alhasan Alhaji

Is Parliament and government really not ready to pass the RTI bill this year?

After years of strenuous struggles to get the bill on the Right to Information (RTI) passed into law, to sanitize public spending and records on them seems to be suffering from feet dragging in parliament by most of those required to expedite work on it.

The current government has promised to pass the RTI Bill into law this year and currently it is before Parliament for consideration and approval.

The document which has been in the House since 2003 is at the Consideration stage where amendments to certain clauses are being affected.

However in spite of the desire of the larger members of the public especially the Coalition of the Right To Information to get work on the bill speeded up, there are fears that the long-awaited Right to Information bill which has been in parliament for more than a decade may not be passed into law after all, as parliament does not appear eager to pass it, with only five months left to bring the current session of parliament to a close.

What is more disheartening is that other bills especially on the election in November and those on loans are being considered under certificates of urgency.

According to Hon. George Loh, Member of Parliament for North Dayi, and ranking member of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee of parliament, the bill has been delayed due to some technicalities, ambiguities, knotty clauses, some apprehensions and disagreements associated with some of its provisions.

Briefing a reporter on the sidelines of a workshop on “Consolidating Ghana’s Anti Corruption Effort: Building Consensus to Address the Existing Gaps in Ghana”, organized by the Ghana Integrity Initiative in Accra, Hon. George Loh intimated that he has always pushed for the passage of the beleaguered bill but some of his colleagues feel reluctant to do same as a result of clauses that seek to make them susceptible to public scrutiny.

“Let me say it here and now, that some members of parliament feel they would be exposed to ridicule and scrutiny if the bill is passed into law in its current state… My colleagues have intentionally refused to pass it, by dragging their feet to stall this important bill. Even some chiefs, heads of corporations, ministries of state and others call me daily, and tell me to sit on the bill in order to protect them against public ridicule and prosecution”, he revealed.

Hon. George Loh continued that some NGOs, opinion leaders, the media, CSOs, the Ghana Bar Association etc. have been calling on the committee to expedite action on the bill, but some of his colleagues have deliberately put it on the back burner by going back to ask already answered questions on some clauses, in an attempt to delay the passage of the bill.

The bill as it stands now has about 116 clauses. Out of these clauses only 20% of them have been tackled. It therefore pre-supposes that, given the elections in sight and the fact that parliament rises for recess at the end of July, the bill will be still-born under the current parliament.

“I want to also draw your attention to the fact that we have 18 other bills lined up for discussion and passage before we rise; especially Constitutional Instrument 91 (CI91). Besides we put premium on loans and economic bills, so we do not as a matter of fact, put same tag on all bills”, he intimated.

The legislator expressed his frustration over the slow progress made towards the passage of the bill, which in his view has a huge potential to reduce corruption in the country. “Some of us are poised to pass the bill frankly speaking, but we are seriously obstructed by our colleagues and some influential people in the country who feel threatened.

But I shall continue to do my best; if it can be sneaked through and if we are lucky, it may happen”, he assured Ghanaians.

George Loh has said there will be some exemptions in the Right To Information (RIT) Bill to safeguard the interest of the State.

He is harboring the fear that if those measures are not put in place, the country will be so opened up to the extent that certain vital information that borders on national security could easily be accessed.

When that happens, he said the security of the country especially that of the presidency would be compromised where the lives of the citizenry would be at risk.

George Loh seems not alone in his expression of fear, the Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Minority Leader, Joe Ghartey and Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu once cautioned that if care is not taken in passing the RTI Bill into law in its present state, the Presidency will be at risk irrespective of the oath of secrecy that has been sworn.

The situation as it is currently does not sit well with the majority of people and therefore require some action to be taken to lobby or enforce action by our legislators.

To this end member organizations have called for an emergency meeting of the coalition on RTI to deliberate on the position of the bill in parliament. It is the desire of that entire parliament will back the current government by living up to its vow to get the bill passed before the end of this election year

Writer is a Executive Director Eanfoworld for Sustainable Development. E-mail: abdulai.alhasan@gmail.com/eanfoworld@yahoo.com