The Speaker of Parliament, Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye, appears unenthused about the approach of some Civil Society Organizations in campaigning for the passage of the Right to Information Bill.
In an address at the rising of Parliament for the Christmas break on Saturday, he indicated that the conduct of some institutions was creating an impression that Parliament was being lackadaisical in passing the RTI bill.
He said such assumptions and impressions created by the organizations were false and needed to be corrected.
According to him, Parliament, on the contrary, has been working hard to get the bill passed and is sure to finish its work by the end of February 2019.
“While Parliament is still working hard to pass the RTI bill, certain persons and institutions are acting as if we are drooling off on the bill. This is fallacious and I will be glad if the media will seriously correct this misimpression. The bill has seen several years and several parliaments and it is tricky in many ways,” he said.
The speaker, who is not the first to give a timeline on when the bill will be passed said 80% of what needs to be done has already been done.
While urging the public to trust Parliament to do a good job, Prof. Aquaye cautioned Civil Society Organizations which he suggested were being hypocritical on the passage of the RTI to desist from pretending to be interested in the passage of the bill.
“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. The public should please trust us and leave us alone for now to do a good job. We are committed to passing the bill and we are working towards it. No Civil Society Organization should at this belated hour jump on our backs and pretend as if they are the people interested in passing this bill,” he added.
It is unclear which specific CSO’s action the Speaker of Parliament may be concerned about, but the activities and campaigns of some civic groups including the Media coalition on RTI are known to have played a key role in how far the passage of the bill has gotten to.
Through their actions, they have been able to keep the RTI bill as a priority matter on the agenda of government and parliament.
The RTI bill has become controversial due to how various parliaments over nearly two decades, have handled it and failed to pass it.
The right to information is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the country’s 1992 Constitution and recognized as a right under International Conventions on Human rights.
The Bill as has been drafted is to give substance to Article 21 (1) (f) of the Constitution which states that “All persons shall have the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary for a democratic society.”
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, but it was 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 Deputy Attorney General, 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 the new Parliament in January 2017, the Bill had to be re-laid by the new government before work commenced on it.