The right to information is essential for transparent and accountable government.
The right of access to information makes possible the public involvement in formulating social policies and in the decision-making processes of governance.
The right to information can only be effectively exercised and implemented on the basis of laws, regulating this right in accordance with international standards.
Ghana celebrates International Right to Know Day
As Ghana joins the rest of the world to celebrate the International Right to Know Day on September 28, Ghanaian public officials and private entities engaging in public related activities must be oriented to understand that information is not a classified document, which must be locked from the public.
Journalists and other officials in their quest to secure information for the benefit of the public encounter egotistical public and private officials, who refuse to cooperate in sharing public information.
It is completely unjustifiable for public officials to refuse to account for the huge capital they manage on behalf of the state. Information belongs to the public.
Such officials need to be told in clear terms that, they do not own the information that they generate on behalf of the public and refusal to share the information is an affront to the tenets of democratic governance.
Information belongs to the public – it is created with public money by public servants, paid by the public treasury. It is a national commodity.
The United Nations has set aside every September 28th as the “Right to Know Day.” However the Day has not received the needed attention and publicity in Ghana.
International Right to Know Day began on September 28, 2002, when freedom of information organizations from around the world came together in Sofia, Bulgaria and created the Freedom Of Information Advocates Network, a global coalition working together to promote the right of access to information for all people and the benefits of open, transparent, and accountable governments.
The members of the Network decided to commemorate this day as a way to share ideas, strategies, and success stories about the development of freedom of information laws and genuinely transparent governance in their own nations.
Governments need to be opened to their citizens
The Day commemorates the right of the individual to access information about the activities and decisions that affects his or her life.
Governments need to be opened to their citizens, yet throughout the world, only a few countries have enacted laws to ensure access to information.
The Day provides a good opportunity to reflect on the importance of the simple but empowering right to information.
Basically, people should be able to participate actively in decision-making but this would be hindered if they cannot effectively access key information.
Without access to government policies and information, media practitioners, government functionaries’, opposition politicians and the public would have to depend on unorthodox means of information gathering, packaging and dissemination.
In such situation, how can the citizens be sure that their interest is being sincerely protected? How can people be sure that money is being spent on the activities that the government says it is spending on, if they cannot see the relevant documents for themselves?
The fact that politicians and bureaucrats are aware that, their actions and decisions cannot be scrutinised means that public officials could easily engage themselves in corrupt practices that could break the back of the economy.
Democracy thrives on transparency
Democracy thrives on transparency; therefore, open governance must be supported and extended at a practical level as an absolute priority. Recognising the right to information and implementing an effective access to information regime is a simple, but extremely useful, first step towards attainment of good governance.
This year’s celebration of the Day should stimulate governments to remove legislative and bureaucratic practices that hinder the implementation of the right to information laws.
The Day offers governments the opportunity to openly commit themselves to the tenets of good governance, democracy and people-centred development.
For a relatively small cost, access to information, will immediately show returns in empowering people to meaningfully engage in the democratic process; increase government transparency and reduced corruption.
Access to information is good for open governance, with its associated anti-corruption advantages. Open government and information sharing also contributes to national stability.
Serious implementation of the right to information will also immediately set new standards for bureaucratic and parliamentary accountability. Public officials will be forced to recognise that, they work for the interests of people who have the right to scrutinise their activities.
Right to Information Coalition
According to the Right To Information Coalition, the Day offers an opportunity to question the rational for the apparent delay by the Ghanaian authorities in passing the freedom of information legislation.
Media practitioners that the GNA spoke to on the Bill suggested that it should be based on the principles of maximum disclosure.
All people should be given the legal right to access government documents. In this era of privatisation and outsourcing of public services to private companies, even documents held by private bodies should be brought under any law where the information affects the right of citizens. Release of documents should be the norm.
Some media practitioners suggested that the release of documents should only be refused if disclosure would be against the public interest.
Public interest should be narrowly defined to mean the protection of national security or personal privacy…it should not be used to protect government from embarrassment or to hide corruption, a Senior Journalists told the Ghana News Agency.
Democracy and Equity
Information is power and in the spirit of democracy and equality, it needs to be shared freely with all people. Entrenchment of the right to information is a practical first step.
As we mark the Right to Know Day, Ghanaian media must renew the advocacy for the passage of the right to information bill into law, media, both print and electronic must organise activities to highlight the essence of the right to know day.
The Ghanaian media must intensify efforts for the passage of the Right to Information bill, it has been on the drawing board for far too long, Ghana can no longer lag behind in passing the right to information bill.
Time to pass the bill is now. The public has a right to know.
By Francis Ameyibor