Right to Information
Right to Information

However, in some countries including Ghana, this right appear to be the ideal rather than the norm. Despite the constitutional recognition and guarantee of the right as a fundamental human right, most public officials are yet to understand the import of this right and their responsibilities in terms of granting access to the public.

Right to Information
Right to Information
Observations from several ATI monitoring exercises carried out by the Right to Information (RTI) Coalition, Ghana show that the decision as to whether or not to grant access by public institutions is often based on a parochial understanding of what the right to information entails. Findings from the various researches confirm that some public institutions are unwilling to release information in the following circumstances:

Where the reason or purpose of the request is not stated.
Where the requester is not affiliated to any institution.
Where collating the information will require a lot of effort and energy.
Where the institution has poor records keeping and management system.
Where the head of the institution or the officer in charge of collating data is unavailable.
Where the information sought has to do with financial transactions or records on funds.
Where the request is unrelated to the requester?s academic work as a student.
Where a similar request or requests have been made by another requester within the same period.

For some of the institutions, particularly the District Assemblies, the definition of the term ?public? does not include an individual citizen. The implication of this is that even though Ghanaians have a right to access information, once these circumstances exists, access maybe denied. What is more problematic is the fact that most public institutions do not have an access to information policy and as such disclosure practises are neither consistent nor regulated.

Best practises on the right to information provide that public institutions hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and oblige public institutions to grant access to the citizenry subject only to clearly defined rules established by law. The RTI best practises DO NOT oblige a requester to disclose the reason or purpose of making a request. Similarly, Article 21(1)(f) of the 1992 Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to access information subject to those limitations that are necessary in a democratic society. The limitations envisaged by this Article with respect to granting access do not include any of the items listed above. This means that any denial based on the requesters refusal to provide justification for the request or to show affiliation to a particular institution is at best unconstitutional.

The Coalition?s observations indicate that on several occasions requesters are compelled to provide justification for their request as well as to show their affiliation, failure of which, in most cases, access is denied. What is more problematic is that the poor record keeping and management systems prevalent in our public institutions make it practically impossible for any public institution to grant access to information even if they are desirous of doing so. The AU Model Law provides under Article 6(b) and (c) that ?every public body and relevant private body must arrange all information in its possession systematically and in a manner that facilitates prompt and easy identification; and keep all information in its possession in good condition and in a manner that preserves the safety and integrity of its contents?

For countries like Ghana with existing laws that recognise and promote public?s access to information; the implementation of the existing legal provisions on ATI is as important as the passage of the right to information legislation. This is because the enforcement of an access to information regime requires a change of mindset and orientation; and therefore an established culture of disclosure will help to enhance implementation of the RTI law when passed.

As we celebrate the Right to Know Day, RTI advocates are saddled with the challenge of engendering a change of culture, mindset and attitude among public officials. Indeed Ghana?s participation on the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Initiative will be meaningless without the availability of information about governmental activities. The key questions remain: How do we translate best practises from letters to action. How do we ensure that the ordinary citizen, who is unaffiliated and who more often than not will not be motivated to request for information; is able to participate in governance? And finally, how do we utilise the OGP platform to address these daunting challenges?

Written By Ugonna Ukaigwe

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