Ghana’s parliament has passed into law the Right To Information, RTI, bill, as at Tuesday evening according to an influential local media outlet, the Multimedia Group.
The bill which is meant to allow citizens access to a certain category of information in order to hold government accountable has been the subject of a series of protests especially from the media and civil society groups.
They accused lawmakers of deliberately delaying the passage of the law because of their own selfish interests. On their part, the lawmakers have argued that the bill needed fine-tuning in areas especially bordering on national security.
The right to information is enshrined in Ghana’s 1992 Constitution but, for many years, the country, despite its stellar media landscape and democratic credentials, had struggled to pass the RTI law.
As far back as 1999, Ghana’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) drafted an RTI Bill for Ghana. It was reviewed thrice (2003, 2005 and 2007) before it was presented in parliament for the first time in 2010.
In March 2018, the Right to Information Bill, 2018 (2018 Bill or Bill) was placed before Parliament. The current passage means it has taken a year to see the light of day. It will now await presidential assent.
The law will provide for the operationalisation of the constitutional right to information from public and some private institutions, subject to exemptions that are necessary and consistent with the protection of public interest in a democratic society.
It also seeks to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs and to provide for related matters.
Ghana’s media is the freest on the continent as at 2018 according to the press rights group, Reporters Without Borders. The President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had spoken of his resolve to accent to the bill once it was passed by the legislature.
Journalists in Ghana largely believe that the passage of the bill into law will make their work easier especially in the area of accessing official government data.
Ghana, one of West Africa’s stable democracies, has had the press playing a crucial role in shaping the democracy. The recent killing of an investigator linked to undercover journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas was tagged as the most significant blot on the profession in recent years.
There has, however, been a rise in the spate of physical attacks on journalists. The most recent has led to calls for the media to boycott the activities of the police. The president is on record to have condemned the attacks.
Ghana will not be the first in Africa to pass an RTI law. The likes of South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, Malawi and Guinea have such laws in place.