The Speaker of Parliament, Professor Mike Oquaye, has given the Executive arm of government till Tuesday, February 5, to advise the House on when the long-awaited Right To Information Bill should take effect as a law, to aid its smooth implementation after passage.
“We will give the Executive appropriate time up to Tuesday to dialogue with this honourable house and consider whether they are in a position to enforce this immediately or not.”
“And I know the Executive will take a very good consideration of the matter. Therefore, list the matter for Tuesday so that honourable learned Attorney General will advise us either in writing or in person so that we conclude this matter to the satisfaction of our people as a whole,” he added.
[contextly_sidebar id=”Tv3tyadK2P0hTb3UsB0HleOUDl3I62DK”]The decision had earlier been referred to the leadership of Parliament to decide after the Member of Parliament for Suhum, Frederick Opare-Ansah, proposed a twelve-month period for the bill to be operationalized.
The Suhum MP argued that the twelve-month period will give state institutions enough time to set up the needed agencies to handle queries from the public.
Speaking to Citi News’ Duke Mensah Opoku in Parliament on Wednesday, Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ben Abdullah, said the matter has been directed at the leadership of the House to decide the fate of the commencement clause.
“We are almost done with the consideration aspect of it; we are left with only one clause which is the commencement clause. It has to do with when the bill should start operationalizing. The proposal is that, to the extent that offices would have to be set up, information officers would have to be appointed, information would have to be generated, kept and stored in a proper manner which will take time, the Member of Parliament for Suhum was of the view that we should operationalize this bill after the expiry of twelve month period,” he added.
But a Ranking Member of the Committee, Inusah Fuseini, disagreed with the commencement date proposal.
To him, the bill must take immediate effect after it is assented to by the president when it is finally passed by Parliament.
“The commission is a commission which is established pursuant to the bill. We will not establish anything. It will be a review body. Information is already there, [in fact] it is generated every day. Is our focus the citizen or the institution? I believe that the focus of this bill is to empower the individual to access information. There should not be a commencement clause. It’s a policy decision,” he argued.
RTI bill doesn’t have budgetary allocation
Meanwhile, it has emerged that there is no allocation from government to take care of the financial implications of the Right to Information Bill, if passed.
This came up on the floor of Parliament following deliberations on the contentious transitional clause to the bill which proposed that it commences 12 months after it is assented to by the President.
According to the Deputy Minority Chief Whip, Ahmed Ibrahim, the government is orchestrating a delay of the passage because there is no budgetary allocation for it.
“I was one of those who was against this particular amendment yesterday, but my attention was drawn to the fact that it was not in the budget. So if there is no budgetary allocation for it, we can allow for some time so there could be a budgetary allocation for it.”
But the Majority Chief Whip, Kwasi Ameyaw Cheremeh, explained that the financial implications of the bill could not have been budgeted for since the bill itself had not yet been passed.
“Mr. Speaker, once you have not passed the bill how do you budget for it?. The bill hasn’t been passed, we are still considering so what provision do you make for it?”
The back and forth
The Right to Information Bill was first drafted in 1999 under former president, Jerry John Rawlings.
Various advocacy groups emerged to press for the immediate passing of the bill into law in 2002 and reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) in its 2008 and 2012 election manifestos promised to ensure the Bill was passed. In 2010, it was presented to Parliament for consideration.
In 2011, the government signed unto the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Initiative with a commitment to pass the law. In November 2013, the Bill was formally laid before parliament.
Former Attorney General, Deputy Dominic Ayine in 2015, moved the Bill for second reading in Parliament. In October 2016, the Bill was withdrawn and replaced with a new one which was immediately laid.
Following the dissolution of the Sixth Parliament of the Fourth Republic and the swearing-in of new Parliament in January 2017, the Bill had to be re-laid by the new government before work commences on it.
A media coalition group put pressure on Parliament before it went on recess for the passage of the bill.
RTI Bill will be passed by end of February 2019 – Oquaye
The Speaker of Parliament, Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye, has set a new deadline for the passage of the Right to Information Bill.
He said the Bill will be passed by the end of February 2019.
The speaker gave the indication during his closing address before the House went on break for Christmas in 2018.
“The bill has seen several years and several parliaments and it is tricky in many ways. The budget and other important matters also came our way. We have done 80% of the work already and we will finish the bill fully I believe and professionally on or before the end of February 2019.”
By: Godwin Akweiteh Allotey | citinewsroom.com | Ghana