CPP wants Right to Information Bill to include civil society organisations

The Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP) on Monday advocated the expansion of the provisions in the Right to Information Bill (RTI) to include Civil Society Organisations (CSO), which play vital role in the country’s governance machinery.

“Section 64 of the RTI Bill should be expanded to make it obligatory for CSO and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) whose activities underpin tenets of good governance, transparency and influencing democratic public opinion.

“The citizens must have a right to access information about the operations of CSO and NGOs about their sources of finance, project intentions, and other vital information which will contribute to transparency and accountability,” Mr Bright O. Akwetey, CPP’s Shadow Cabinet Minister of Justice and Attorney General told the Ghana News Agency in an interview in Accra.

The Former Chief State Attorney said: “The proliferation of CSO and NGOs whose leaderships have ascribed to themselves absolute public powers to criticise governments and other leaderships in the country but without any control mechanism must be check through the RTI.

“As they claim to operate in the public interest, Ghanaians need to know their financiers, background and motives for being our advocates…as he or she that comes to equity must come with clean hands.”

Whilst acknowledging the vital role that some CSOs and NGOs played in the country, Mr Akwetey cautioned that the developments in North Africa and other parts on the Continent calls to question full disclosure of information about CSOs.

He therefore called on the joint Parliamentary Committee seeking public input to the draft bill to seriously consider expanding the said provisions to include CSO and NGOs.

The CPP Leading Member noted that Ghana’s choice of democratic governance entailed an active participation by all in the governance of the country and the right to information was particularly relevant.

He said “It is only when those who are to participate in governance are well informed about democratic stakeholders and the entire democratic process that they can contribute meaningfully to the governance system.”

Mr Akwetey therefore described the exclusion of CSOs and NGOs from the RTI Bill as a fundamental omission that must be ratified immediately.

On the numerous exemptions in the Bill, Mr Akwetey noted that International RTI standards revealed that exemptions should be narrowly formulated so as not to defeat the purpose and object of access to information.

He therefore recommended that; all exemptions in the Bill should be subjected to “a harms test”: That is to say, exemption from information will remain exemption where it was proved that the harm in disclosure was greater than the public interest in disclosure.

Mr Akwetey said “This is vital to include as the Constitution specifically states that the right to information is ‘subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society’, hence the exemptions need to meet this standard”.

He noted that one of the principles of the right to information was that information requested for or from a public body should be provided in a timely or expeditious manner.

“This is in recognition of the fact that information is needed for a specific purpose within a specific time.”

Mr Akwetey expressed concern about the times stipulated within the Bill, which according to him defeated this principle as well as the right to information.

In addition, to these long time lines, applicants need to give a reason for the application when it is urgent, Clause 1 (4) in the Bill.

“This is unreasonable considering that it is the duty of the government to avail information and one should not give a reason for exercising this right, “Mr Akwetey noted.

Source: GNA

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