In Ghana, article 21 (1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution guarantees every person the right to information subject to certain qualifications and laws necessary in a democratic society. In order to fully enjoy this fundamental human and constitutional right, the country embarks on the journey for a legislation to operationalize this right. The first draft Right to Information (RTI) Bill was prepared in 1996 and went through several reviews in 2003, 2005 and 2007 but was not tabled in Parliament until the year 2010 during the tenure of the 5th Parliament.
In 2003, a Coalition of Civil Society Organizations and human rights activists known as the Right to Information (RTI) Coalition was established under the leadership of the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI) Africa Office. For more than a decade, the Coalition initiated series of advocacy to secure the passage of a good Right to Information Bill including mobilizing public support for the passage of the Bill as well as lobbying the Executive and Members of Parliament to secure their commitment for the passage of the Bill. In the same year, the Coalition was invited to be a member of the planning committee set up by the Ministry of Information to strategize on how government would open up consultations on the Bill, which at the time had been approved by Cabinet, to the wider public for input before presenting the Bill to Parliament.
The Coalition had raised several criticisms on the Bill which they compiled and sent to various stakeholders including Members of Parliament, the then Minister of Information, Mr Dan Botwe and the Governments Spokesperson on Good Governance, Mr Frank Agyekum. The NPP Administration led by President John Agyekum Kuffour, assured the RTI Coalition that it would examine the concerns raised and ensure that the proposals by the Coalition are incorporated into the Bill. The Coalition was further assured of Government’s willingness to pass the Bill. Unfortunately, the Bill did not make it to Parliament till that Parliament lapsed in 2008.
In 2010, when the Bill was introduced to Parliament, it was referred to the Joint Committee on Communication and Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, which embarked on a nationwide consultation with support from the World Bank, to seek the views of Ghanaians on the Bill. Prior to the nationwide consultation by the Joint Committee, the Coalition carried out series of activities in all the selected areas of the consultation to educate the citizenry on the content of the Bill to enable them make an informed contribution during the consultations. Following concerns raised by citizens during the consultations, the Joint Committee requested from the Coalition alternative provisions to the major areas of concern. The Coalition submitted to the Committee an ‘Options Paper’ otherwise known as the ‘Zero draft’ which proposed amendments to specific clauses to conform with international best practice and human rights standards on the right to information legislation. The Coalition in its critique of the Bill and suggested amendments relied heavily on the then AU draft Model Law on Access to Information for Africa. However, the Committee did not take any step to amend the Bill, even though several promises to that effect were made. The Joint Committee never submitted its report on the Bill before the Fifth Parliament lapsed after the 2012 elections.
The Bill reverted to Cabinet after the 5th Parliament elapsed in January 2013 without passing it. Following this, the President John Dramani Mahamma’s administration in November 12, 2013, reintroduced the Bill to the 6th Parliament. The Bill was read for the first time and referred to the Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in accordance with article 106(4) and (5) of the 1992 Constitution and Order 179 of the Standing Orders of Parliament.
The Parliamentary Select Committee then chaired by Hon. Alban Sumani Bagbin, invited the public to submit memoranda on the Bill as per the Standing Orders of Parliament. In response to this, the Coalition mobilized and provided technical support to other stakeholders to submit memos on the Bill. Following this, the Committee organised a meeting in Koforidua, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, from May 5-6, 2014. The main aim of the meeting was to provide a platform for all the stakeholders that had submitted memos, to discuss their concerns with the Committee. Various CSOs including the RTI Coalition made presentations at the forum with key recommendations regarding areas of amendment. The Coalition also made available to the Committee copies of the AU Model law on Access to Information for Africa and it’s (the Coalition) Option Paper on the Bill to facilitate the Committee’s work. The Committee again met with the Coalition from September 2-3, 2014 to discuss its (the Committee’s) draft report on the Bill following the inputs made by stakeholders.
Following the meeting, the Committee presented its draft report on the floor of Parliament on December 17, 2014. The Committee’s report captured most of the proposals made by the Coalition on the Bill. On June 25, 2015, six months after the Committee’s report was tabled, the Attorney General (AG) and Minister for Justice, Mrs. Marrieta Brew Appiah-Opong moved the motion for the Bill to be read the 2nd time on the floor of Parliament. The second reading paved way for discussions to commence on the Bill.
The debate on the motion commenced on June 30, 2015 and was completed on July 24, 2015 and referred to the next stage in the legislative process (the consideration stage). On October 27, 2015, Parliament resumed sitting for the last quarter of the year with the RTI Bill as its main agenda item for the session. However the Bill was never considered until the House went on recess in December.
In 2016 the consideration of the Bill witnessed even slower progress than previous stages. Parliament could not commence the consideration process until March 2016, (Eight months after the conclusion of the second reading). Between March - June 2016, Parliament was only able to consider 29 out of the over 90 clauses in the Bill. In June, Parliament suspended the consideration of the Bill and never visited the Bill until it went on recess on August 5, 2016 with the excuse that the proposed amendments were numerous and time consuming.
Following consultations with the then Majority Leader of Parliament (Hon. Alban Bagbin) and the AG, when Parliament resumed sitting for the third session in the year, the AG withdrew the RTI Bill 2013 and tabled a revised RTI Bill 2016 (which contains all the amendments incorporated into the original Bill as one document) in Parliament on October 28, 2016.
Following the introduction of the new Bill, the Bill was immediately referred to the same Committee- Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. On Sunday October 23, 2016, the Committee met with the Coalition in Accra to review the revised Bill. The Committee completed its review processes and submitted its report to Parliament within three days. Parliament began the consideration process on the new Bill on October 30 and continued on November 1. Parliament however, could not continue with the consideration before going on recess on November 3 for the general elections on December 7 as the issue of quorum was raised on November 2 when the Bill was called for discussion.
Parliament after resuming from the recess could not complete the consideration processes to enable the passage of the Bill before the 6th Parliament lapsed in January 2017 due to the 2016 elections and therefore the Bill once again reverted to the Cabinet. It was until March 23, 2018 following consistent pressure from the Coalition that the AG reintroduced the Bill to the 7th Parliament. The Bill was subsequently referred to the Joint Committee on Constitutional, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs and Communications (Joint Committee) to work on it and present a report to the House. The Joint Committee invited the public to submit memoranda on the Bill as per the Standing Orders of Parliament. Following this, the Committee organised a stakeholder’s conference in Parliament on May 8, 2018 to provide a platform for all the stakeholders that had submitted memos, to discuss their concerns with the Committee. Various CSOs including the RTI Coalition made presentations at the forum with key recommendations regarding certain areas of the Bill that needs amendment.
Succeeding the stakeholder’s conference, the Joint Committee met at Koforidua to undertake a clause by clause consideration/review of the Bill in line the views/suggestions received from the general public. The Coalition participated in and provided technical support upon the request of the Committee. The Joint Committee then submitted its report on the floor of Parliament in June and the consideration process started in July 11, 2018 and ended in February 2019. Finally, the third reading and passage of the Bill took place on March 26.
On 21 May 2019, President Nana Akufo-Addo assented to the Bill bringing to a close a two-decade journey for legislation to operationalize the constitutional right to information held by public institutions. The implementation of the law takes effect from January 2020 as provided by the law.