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Opinions of Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

You Bet, Ghana Is Ready For An RTI Law!

You Bet, Ghana Is Ready For An RTI Law! You Bet, Ghana Is Ready For An RTI Law!

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
June 3, 2015

It is heartening to learn that, finally, the Right-To-Information Bill is in the process of being given a second-reading on the august floor of Ghana's parliament (See "Ghana Not Ready For RTI - K. T. Hammond" / 7/4/15). This is a bill that has been on the books since 2002. Once again, the credit for this landmark legal proposition must go to the Kufuor-led government of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), for initiating this civilized instrument of democratic governance. There are, of course, those who would have the people's business held selfishly close to the vests of insiders of the three traditional branches of democratic governance, namely, the executive, legislature and the judiciary. That would be a grievous mistake.

Which is why I vehemently plead to differ with Mr. Kobina Tahir Hammond, the New Patriotic Party's Member of Parliament for Adansi-Asokwa. Now, having observed the preceding, I must also agree with Mr. Hammond on the fact that some classes of information expertly deemed to border on national security ought to be rigidly protected, with the RTI Act, prior to its passage into law as such, making special provisions for such imperative protection. Thirteen years on, one expects that the legal mavens on the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs would have had enough time to study how the RTI Act works in such advanced Western democracies as the United States, Britain, Australia, France, Canada and Germany, among others.

This is also where the expertise of Ghanaian constitutional scholars, both at home and abroad, ought to be liberally solicited before the final legal package is put to vote on the floor of the House. I had earlier on weighed in on the same side as Mr. Hammond; but this was largely based on the fact that I strongly believed then that Ghana had too many fundamental development-related problems to be focused on a luxury that I reckoned to be the preserve of the advanced democracies. Fortunately or unfortunately, after studiously following Ghanaian politics for some three decades now, it has become obvious that it is about time the people got closer to learning the intricacies of how our affairs are conducted by our elected public officials, in order to ensure that our collective interests as a sovereign people are reckoned as top priority.

For instance, an RTI Law/Act would allow Ghanaians to know precisely what amount of the taxpayer's money has been spent by governments in power and their political parties to promote the interests of sitting presidents and their parliamentary point-persons in election years. Dr. Mohammed Amin Adam, a Ghanaian-born energy think-Tank head and expert, offers a far more comprehensive overview on why Ghana's Right-To-Information Act ought to guarantee transparency in the oil sector, as a means of drastically reducing the complicity of our ministerial appointees with multinational prospectors to wantonly fleecing Ghanaian citizens to the criminal benefit of these cabinet appointees and the multinational corporations (See "The Right To Information And Trade Secrets" The Chronicle 7/2/15).

Even more significantly, whether such unauthorized appropriation of the people's money is legal; and if not, what means ought to be employed to ensure that such stolen monies are promptly returned to the national till, with possible punitive measures being exacted against the culprits. Merely being added onto the list of "enlightened" democracies with Freedom-of-Information laws, is the least bit of what makes Ghana's RTI Act a landmark achievement. Rather, the significance of an RTI Law/Act inheres in the fact that it enhances probity, transparency and accountability in government. It is ironic that the man who made these salient and salutary elements/components of responsible governance a household vocabulary in Ghana, is also the leader who presided over the most corrupt postcolonial Ghanaian government. Of course, the unmistakable reference here is to Chairman Jerry John Rawlings.

Ghana's present winner-takes-all political culture would greatly benefit from an RTI law/act. It would enable the electorate to fully appreciate which political parties and/or ideological camps have their best interests uppermost. The RTI law/act would also indirectly push the nation towards merit-based democracy and the organic decentralization of power in the various regions and districts across the country. The occurrence of the Woyome Mega-Heist, for example, would not have taken so long to become public knowledge, and would likewise not have taken such a dangerous judicial twist. On the whole, I tend to be reticent about what our leaders mean when they talk about "National Security." By and large, the latter invocation is a ruse aimed at facilely allowing our leaders to get away with high crimes and misdemeanors, as have recently come to light in the Woyome Scandal, as well as the legion judgment-debt contretemps.