Despite its significance in enhancing the work of journalists, the Right to Information (RTI) Law is not a media law but guarantees the right to information for all citizens, Mr Yaw Sarpong Boateng, Executive Secretary of the RTI Commission has said.
The Executive Secretary said the opportunity to access information by the public was provided for in Ghana under Article 21(1)(f) of the 1992 Constitution which “guarantees the right to information by all persons, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society.”
The provision, he said, though succinct in how it was set out to operate, had proven difficult to implement subject to the processes and the ease with which individuals and organisations were able to access information.
He stated that such information ordinarily was supposed to be in the public domain or should be released to persons who put in a request for it, so long as that request fell within the qualifications and laws that governed it.
The Executive Secretary, speaking at a Civil Society forum in Accra on the implementation of the Right to Information Law in Ghana, said as part of efforts to clarify the position of the law to the citizenry, the Commission had embarked on a media sensitisation drive to educate their public and the media fraternity on the content of the RTI Act – Act 989.
Under its Rebuilding Civic Space Project, STAR Ghana Foundation (SGF), in partnership with Ghana Developing Communities Association (GDCA) and Ghana Friends (GV) convened the forum with civil society organizations and other stakeholders on the implementation of the Right to Information Law in Ghana since its passage.
Mr Boateng said the operational functions of the Commission as required under the Law had so far been effectively discharged as outlined in its 2021 Annual report as presented to parliament.
He said in the year under review, 189 public institutions submitted their reports to the Commission in accordance with section 77 of Act 989.
Out of this number, 65 institutions received requests for information with the Department of Children receiving the highest number of 34 requests for information.
“A total of 247 information requests were received by 65 public institutions. I59 of the 247 requests which translates to 64 per cent of requests for information were approved outrightly while seven requests were rejected outrightly representing three per cent,” Mr Boateng disclosed.
Mr Ibrahim-Tanko Amidu, Executive Director, SGF, said the convening, among other objectives, would strengthen civil society awareness of the implementation of the RTI Law, reflect on the challenges associated with it and support their mobilisation to influence its effective implementation to promote access to public information for public use in holding public officials to account.
Dr Theodora Dame Adjin-Tettey, Lecturer, School of Communication Studies, University of Ghana, who presented a technical paper that interrogated the relevance of the RTI Law, loopholes and potential for growth, found out that some public officials portrayed an antagonistic disposition to giving out information and had been used as a coverup to deny information from the Presidency, which were not exempt.
Such exemptions, she said, were standards with every legal regime and should probably not be taken as blanket exclusions with the intent to deny access to information and that the provision for seeking reviews on application outcomes through the RTI Commission was pertinent to averting masked attempts to use exemptions as excuse to deny information.
Among others, Dr Adjin-Tettey, also, a Research Associate, Rhodes University in South Africa, recommended that awareness creation and education on the Law must be enhanced, explaining that “information must include what the law says, how the public can use the law, and who to contact in specific districts for required information.”
Mr Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), one of the advocates of the RTI Law, called on journalists to test the law and use it as a tool to enhance their practice.
“We recognise that the RTI Law is not a law for journalists, but we also realise that it is a significant tool that enhances the work of journalists, and it is something that we will continuously push from the journalistic point of view,” he emphasised.
He said the continuous invocation of the law was significant in dealing with the bottlenecks in access to information.