A former Director of the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), Mr Vitus Azeem, has expressed concern over some exemptions contained in the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The exemptions, according to him, would make it difficult for citizens to hold the government accountable in the fight against corruption.
“The exemptions that talk about law enforcement and public safety, economic and other interests; economic information of third parties, information on tax, privileged information, in addition to other secrecy laws, are in the interest of the politicians.
“This means that having the Right to Information in existence does not necessarily mean citizens can get important government data and use it to demand accountability from the powers that be,” he stated.
Mr Azeem said this at the Sixth Accra Dialogue series organised by the Institute of Law and Public Affairs (ILPA), in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), in Accra last Thursday.
Participants discussed how corruption could be combatted vis-à-vis the people’s right to information.
According to him, “the right to information would only make a difference if citizens can freely use the information accessed, including sharing it publicly.”
Mr Azeem said freedom of information must go with freedom of expression, adding that “if you get the information and you cannot use it, you cannot write it or use it in your newspaper, you cannot sit on radio and talk about it, then what is the essence”.
He said the RTI Law could be used as a tool to fight corruption if all information was made public.
“Information in the possession of any institution funded by the public and private bodies in performing public functions should be readily available. Ghanaian taxpayers need to have access to information concerning what the government does with their money and what government plans to do on their behalf,” Mr Azeem added.
A former Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, also said the purpose of the RTI Law could be defeated if Ghanaians did not cultivate the habit of demanding information from the government.
“It is important for us to deliberately cultivate the habit of making requests for information from the government. Civil society groups led by the Right to Information Coalition would have to lead the process of ensuring that requesting information from government bodies is popularised,” she said.
Nana Oye said there was the need for an overall implementation plan for the RTI in Ghana, and that for information to be easily accessible, there was the need for government information to be digitised.
“The Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD) also has to make sure that public information is easily accessible,” she added.
The acting Fellow of the ILPA, Justice Srem-Sai, said RTI had proven to be one of the most important tools in fighting corruption worldwide and, therefore, stressed the need for the people to be educated on it.