International NGOs Say Ghana’s RTI Bill Inadequate, Offer Recommendations for Review

Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana President
Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana President

International Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working to promote and protect the  right to information have described  Ghana’s Right to Information Bill as inadequate and highlighted shortcomings such as an unclear scope and overbroad  regime of exceptions, among others.  They are proposing  recommendations for Ghana’s Parliament and other authorities to consider when the Bill is reviewed.

In a statement issued in July and signed by eight international NGOs including Access Info Europe, Africa Freedom of Information Centre, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, Centre for Law and Democracy, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, International School for Transparency, Media Rights Agenda and the Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria, the organisations welcome the fact that Ghana is moving forward with a Right to Information Bill, noting however that:

“The Bill has shortcomings that should be addressed before it is passed into law. An assessment of the Bill according to the RTI Rating indicates that it scores 89 points out of a maximum possible total of 150. This would put Ghana in 49th place globally out of the 111 countries currently on the Rating.”

They identified some of the problems with the bill to include “its unclear scope; significantly overboard regime of exceptions; insufficient protection for the independence of the oversight body, the Information Commission; and relatively weak proactive information disclosure obligations for public institutions.”

Regarding exemptions, the organisations recommended among other things the inclusion of a primacy clause which makes it clear that the right to information law prevails over other laws in case of conflict. It further recommends the removal of sections 14(1)(a), 12, 15(1)(a)(ii), 15(1)(b), 16(2)(b), 16(3)(f)-(h), and Section 10(c) for various reasons including human rights, technicalities and irrelevancies.

On Scope and Requesting Procedures, the organisations noted that “a key problem in terms of scope is the lack of any proper definition of the key notion of a ‘public institution’, leaving this to be debated as the law is applied.” They recommended inter alia that: “This term should be defined clearly so as to include not only private bodies that receive public funding or undertake public functions but also a wide range of public authorities.”

Concerning the issue of appeals, the organisations noted that: “A key issue in relation to the system of appeals is that the independence of the Information Commission is not sufficiently protected. Independence of oversight bodies is of paramount importance if they are to be able to do their jobs properly.”

They recommended among other things “A more robustly independent system for appointing members which allocates less power to the President; prohibitions on appointing politically engaged individuals and requirements of professional expertise for members; a requirement to provide adequate funding to the Commission, in a manner that is protected against political interference.”

Regarding the duty to publish, that is proactive disclosure, the organisations suggested that public institutions should be required to publish proactively a more extensive list of categories of information which, at the very least, includes more onerous obligations regarding financial and budgetary information.

To address the issue of sanction and related matters, the NGOs recommended that “the law should prohibit more broadly the wilful obstruction of access to information. The law should also put in place a proper system for promoting better records management by public institutions, including by having a central body, potentially the Commission, set records management standards.”

Calling to action, “We urge the relevant authorities in Ghana, including Parliament, to take our recommendations into account as the Bill is reviewed, with the aim of ensuring that the law which is passed provides as strong a basis as possible for Ghanaians to access information held by public institutions,” the statement read.