Asokwa NPP MP Kobina Tahir Hammond
Fears by New Patriotic Party MP for Asokwa constituency, Kobina Tahir Hammond, that passage of the Right to Information Bill will destabilise governance, have been described as backward.
Pressure group OccupyGhana, in a statement educated the MP on how the bill when passed into law, will not compel the state to release “state secrets”.
The MP had provided a rare insight behind the failure of Parliament to pass the bill first presented to Parliament in 2002.
“There will be no secret in government,” he said explaining “you need peace of mind to run a government”
“Until [journalists] sit on the seat of an [Information] administrator, they will not know what it feels like to be pestered for information…government cannot proceed effectively…”
The Asokwa NPP MP also called the push for a “free society”, a journalistic platitude.
But beyond calling out this position as a betrayal of understanding of the 1992 constitution, OccupyGhana explained there are two exemptions under the nearly 20-year old bill that allows the state to withhold information.
They are the State Secrets Act, 1962 (Act 101) which protects classified state secrets from disclosure and the public interest privilege inserted in the Constitution which allows government to provide justification on a decision to withhold information.
Rather than seeing these two laws as conflicting with the RTI bill, the two complement each other in protecting the state and still deepening the country’s democratic culture of transparency, the pressure group said.
It charged Ghanaians to pile pressure on MPs and government to pass the bill this time around after a litany of postponements and excuses.
OccupyGhana is part of a coalition of civil society groups pushing for the bill’s passage. It has announced a new deadline of November 15, 2018.
READ FULL STATEMENT
13th November, 2018
OCCUPYGHANA® PRESS STATEMENT
OCCUPYGHANA® RESPONDS TO K. T. HAMMOND ON THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL AND CALLS FOR MORE PUBLIC PRESSURE FOR THE PASSAGE OF THE BILL INTO LAW
Our attention has been drawn to a news item published by myjoyonline.com on 1st November 2018 in which Mr. K. T. Hammond, Member of Parliament for Adansi Asokwa, is reported to have expressed opposition to the passage of the Right to Information Bill into law because “there will be no secret in government.” Mr. Hammond is reported to have uttered the following words:
“You need peace of mind to run a government. You need to concentrate and if you have a bill and before the ink dries on it, somebody is asking you to ‘bring this document’… to the extent that we are talking about communication between the president, the vice president and cabinet, potentially there will be no secret in government…
‘Free society’ and all that is a journalist’s jargon and until they sit on the seat of an administrator, they will not know what it feels like to be pestered for information…
Gold nuggets are in there for journalists. One single slip, ministers cannot operate, government cannot proceed effectively, governance cannot take place meaningfully with this sort of albatross hanging over our heads.”
By these words we understand Mr. Hammond to be saying that attempts to exercise the right to information that is guaranteed under Article 21(1)(f) of our Constitution constitutes some disturbance or irritation to the government. Mr. Hammond thinks that the concept of a “free society” that the Constitution guarantees is merely “a journalistic jargon.” He considers requests for information as a shackle or impediment to running a government effectively.
We have also noted that on 7th November 2018, Parliament was forced to suspend the consideration of the Bill for a second time due to alleged lack of a quorum. Again, it was the same Mr. Hammond (this time with Mr. Samuel George, MP for Prampram in support) who was too pleased to take advantage of this and thereby stultify this Bill making progress in parliament.
Mr. Hammond’s fears are not just false and unfounded, they are antiquated and out of sync with modern day democratic tenets. Mr. Hammond does not appear to us to fully appreciate what the Constitution provides and the role of statute in shaping the constitutional right to information.
We respectfully draw Mr. Hammond’s attention to the State Secrets Act, 1962 (Act 101), which protects from all duly classified state secrets from disclosure. There is also the public interest privilege that is recognised under the Constitution as an exception to the right to information. The Constitution contains detailed provisions on how this privilege is claimed and challenged, if need be.
Thus passing the RTI Bill into law will not affect the fact that the state will have secrets or that some information should not be disclosed because its disclosure would not be in the interest of the state. An RTI Act can and will exist side by side with the State Secrets Act and constitutional provisions, and complement each other, so that all public information that do not constitute state secrets or qualify for the exercise of the public interest privilege, should be made available to Ghanaians either by the government itself or upon request.
Mr. Hammond has to be aware that the courts of Ghana have upheld the right to information even without the statute being in place. All that the draft Bill seeks to do is to set down the mechanics and processes for interested persons to obtain information without having to go to court in each instance. The current ‘default’ position where almost all public information is treated as a state secret or as falling under public interest privilege unless the person seeking the information goes to court, is backward, unacceptable, unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Our Article 21(1)(f) on the right of citizens to information is arguably one of the most progressive in the world. Thus while the United States Supreme Court has held in the US, there no constitutional right of access to government information or sources of information within the government’s control, our constitutional provision on the right to information and its interpretation and enforcement by our Supreme Court are more forward-looking and more liberal. That is why our Supreme Court has affirmed “the right of all persons to information, as expressed in Article 21(1)(f) of the Constitution,” adding that the “right to information implies a right to access public document.” The same Court has described attempts to withhold information from citizens as “reprehensible” and “a wilful violation of the Constitution.”
OccupyGhana® is calling on the public to exert even more pressure on government and parliament to pass this law. We must not accept the status quo and the excuses coming from parliament on this nearly 20 year delay.
Yours in the service of occupying minds for God and Country
Story by Ghana | Myjoyonline.com
Credit: Source link