Media practitioners and political party representatives at a Focus Group Discussion held in Bolgatanga on Monday stressed the need for Parliament to amend the Right To Information Bill and pass it into law before the close of the year.
The participants did not only express the disappointment about the way and manner Parliament was delaying with the passage of the bill but also said there was the need to amend certain portions of the bill.
They mentioned the exemption of the Presidency, the Vice Presidency, the Cabinet, Parliament and Security when it comes to accessing information under the RTI as not the best and called for the amendment of those clauses before the passage.
The Participants emphasized that the denial of the Public from accessing the needed information from the above mentioned areas as indicated in the bill would make the purpose of RTI baseless, stressing that “public interest in such areas are very crucial for national development and cannot be compromised”.
They said they were not happy about the fees attached in the bill now and said people should be made to pay only for the reproduction of the information and nothing else so as not discourage people from accessing information.
Participants advocated for an Independent Commission instead of the Attorney General’s Department to oversee the overall activities of the RTI bill since the Attorney General’s Department which is a government wing may influence decisions and render the RTI bill purposeless.
They said the 160 days from the time of request of information to the time of disclosure as stated in the bill was unreasonable and amounted to a subversion of the right to information, emphasizing that “the timeliness of access is critical to the value of the information”.
The Participants said with the passage of the bill, it would regulate the way information could be accessed particularly those which were withheld by government in all forms of storage and retrieval systems.
“It will respect the individual’s right to access information concerning the governance of their affairs in areas such as food, shelter, clean water, health care, education and equitable distribution of the resources that are available”.
They said the openness that would result from access to information would help curb corruption, reduce speculations, anxieties and falsehoods that usually thrived with secrecy, as well as help to promote good governance, principles of transparency and accountability that are requisite in a proper democracy.
Mr Norbert Atia, Upper East Focal Person of RTI Coalition said recent developments had revealed that the Parliamentary Joint Committee had been acting contrary to promises made to Ghanaians both on Public platforms and in discussions with the Coalition, and impressed upon the participants, particularly the media, to help champion the passage of the bill.