Some exemptions in Right to Information Bill

The Right to Information (RTI) Bill will not give the public sensitive information, which emanates from the Office of the President, Vice President, Cabinet, the law enforcement agencies or undermine public safety and national security.

The public can also not get access to information that would seriously jeopardise international relations, affect the defence of the country or relating to private economic interests as well as economic information of third parties, which disclosure would jeopardise a person’s economic position.

The Bill bans information relating to tax, internal working information of agencies, information coming from parliamentary privileges, legal and medical professionals and any other privilege under the law as well as information disclosing personal matters.

This was contained in a document produced by the Coalition on the Right to Information-Ghana (CHRI).

CHRI works through the mechanism of a freedom of information law with support from the Open Society Justice Initiative of West Africa, a group of civil society organisations and open rights activists working to promote good governance and transparency.

The document said public interest is the reason for making some information protected or exempted from access through Right to Information.

Individual’s right to have access to information must be balanced with the need for confidentiality when disclosing information which would be in the public’s interest.

Information classified as exempt can be released to the public because the Bill places a limitation period on how long information may be exempted.

For instance section 58 states that information which was classified as being exempt ceases to be so after 20 years from the calendar year in which the information came into existence.

After this expiry period, access to the information may be requested and given to the public. Section 18 states that in some cases, information which would usually be exempted and still within the limitation period may be released if it’s being used as evidence for certain things, and the benefits of accessing the information clearly outweigh the harm or danger of such access.

If an agency cannot find the information it requested for, it must take practical and reasonable steps to find it, so long as it is not exempt from public access under the Bill.

If there are reasonable grounds to believe that the agency is in possession of the information but it cannot be found or does not exist, the applicant will be noticed of it. Such notice is deemed to be refusal.

If the information is found after the notice has been given to the applicant, the information officer will notify the applicant and give access to it.

No information regarding personal matters is classified as exempt under the Bill. This means that members of the public will not be given access to information which would result in an unreasonable disclosure of the personal affairs of somebody else, whether they are living or deceased.

If a person deliberately discloses exempt information they will commit an offence. If they are convicted, they will either be fined not less than 250 penalty units or will have to serve a term of imprisonment of not less than a year, or may be sentenced to both.

Information officers commit an offence if they destroy or alter information in order to deny somebody access to it. Applicants commit an offence if they give false information in their application.

If an information officer of an agency decides not to give access to the information requested, the applicant may ask for the decision to be reviewed.

To this, he or she must submit an application for review to a Minister in writing 21 days after notification of the decision, accompanied by the relevant fee.

The Minister will look into the decision of the information officer and either decides that the applicant should be given access to the information or will dismiss the review.

When the review is dismissed the applicant may apply for judicial review to the appeals commissioner within 21 days of receiving the Minister’s decision.

When the applicant is dissatisfied, a further appeal may be lodged at the Supreme Court for a final ruling.

Source: GNA

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