I stared in expectant silence as the lady walked slowly up to the podium and unrolled a sheet of paper. She gazed at the crowd and in a clear voice announced the eagerly awaited results. The crowd immediately jumped up in jubilation.
The sheet of paper was the collated results of the 2016 presidential elections.
The lady was Charlotte Osei, the Electoral Commissioner of Ghana.
To be honest, we all knew this was coming. To the minds of many, the Mahama Administration had failed the people. It was no small wonder that the people voted so massively for another candidate. All around, I could almost sense a change in the atmosphere of the entire country. Contentment, Joy, happiness. Yet, one feeling was much more pronounced. It was embedded in the face of almost every Ghanaian. The peculiar yet somehow familiar feeling of change. This happened at the tail end of 2016.
One year later….
Luminescent, explosive sparkles of colour sliced through the night sky to herald the new year.
2018 will be a different year right; a year hopefully free of corruption, I thought to myself.
The shrill sound of my alarm tone cleaved through my ears like a knife through butter and dispelled the dream that laid upon my mind. I groped futilely at the fading tendrils of the dream as it slipped through my mental grasp like smoke. I cursed in frustration, picked up my phone and stared groggily at the screen. The letters of the Ghanaweb article screamed at me: Corruption Scandal rocks the Nation!
Another day, another rude awakening. Corrupt Kojo has been caught stealing Taxpayers money again. 2017 rocked the country with a plethora of corruption scandals. From the Ambulance scandal where a mind-boggling 2. 4 Million Euros was paid for Ambulances described as “sprinter buses fitted with kitchen panels”, to the JOSPONG Saga where District Assemblies were forced to cough up 320 million cedis for unnecessary waste management contracts; the SSNIT Software Scandal; The BOST Fuel contamination scandal, the Ameri Power deal amongst others. These activities would not have seen the light of day had it not been for the assiduous efforts of journalists such as Manasseh Azure and a few good souls in the government.
This is so last year you might say. No problem. Let’s talk about this year. The President hosted a Press Conference to speak on a matter that has generated a furore of heat in our country for quite a few weeks i.e. the Ghana/US Military Cooperation Agreement. The President described the public controversy surrounding the agreement to be “not the triumph of openness in government but of the crucial need for the people to be fully and accurately informed. You cannot claim to believe in democracy unless you have faith in the people and faith in their capacity to make the right decisions given the right information”. He claimed that it is this faith that guides him to lead an open and transparent government. He alleged that various documents purporting to be the true agreement had been released by his political opponents in an attempt to stir public mistrust in the government. The President instead of offering some sort of balme to alleviate our burning curiosity, chose that particular moment to throw political punches at his opponents. But I digress…. this was supposed to be a well-organized rant.
As of 2017, Ghana has dropped to place 81 out of 180 countries in the 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). This is no surprise considering the alarming rise in corruption scandals in the country. His Excellency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo while delivering his keynote speech address at the beginning of his term of office stressed the resolve of his government to speed up the passage of the long overdue Right to Information Bill (RTI Bill) by Parliament. These were his words, if African leaders were to succeed in improving the living standards of their peoples, a critical piece of the puzzle had to be the availability and use of information and data. In spite of his words, our dearly beloved President continues to fight corruption in Ghana with nothing more than words and pretty speeches believing that they would suffice.
Some might argue that the passage of the Special Prosecutor Act, 2018 (Act 959) and the subsequent appointment of Martin Amidu as Special Prosecutor is clearly indicative of the government’s commitment to fight corruption. Yet, this raises the question: “if the government has been able to speed-up the passage of the Special Prosecutor Act, why can it not do the same for the RTI Bill?” In the fight against corruption, the sword, the Special Prosecutor Act, to cut away the festering rot of corruption, is just as important as an armor to shield against spread of the cancer of corruption. One might be tempted to think that Act 959 was merely passed to give the government the power to engage in some sort of politically motivated witch-hunt against their opponents. Would it then mean that the Government’s delay in passing the bill is demonstrative of a desire to protect their own interests to the detriment of the entire nation?
What can the ordinary citizen do to protect his rights? It is agreed widely by Ghanaians everywhere that there is too much corruption and bribery in Ghana due to a lack of transparency regarding official actions and records. There is no doubt that Ghana needs an honest, accountable and responsive government to steer the ship of state. How can this be achieved?
Information in the 21st century has become the heart, cornerstone and an important resource of most governments around the world. Access to this information is a universal right in the international corpus. The right to access information has gained wide recognition as an indispensable element of a functional democracy. Article 21(1)(f) of the Constitution, 1992 guarantees every person the right to information subject to such qualifications as are necessary in a democratic society. Indeed, we have a right to know what is going on!
Many have described the call for the passage of the Right to Information (RTI) Act as nothing more than a quixotic notion. Ace Ankomah, a renowned legal luminary opined that “Ghana as opposed to UK does not need an RTI law for it sings a much more melodious tune. The Constitution itself guarantees our right to information. Justice Sophia Adinyira in Re Presidential Election Petition stated emphatically that “all persons have a right to information from which it is inferred a right to be given access to public documents. Her Ladyship stated 21(1)(f) of the 1992 Constitution. This right to information implies a right to access public documents. This decision was later affirmed in the case of Justice Paul Uuter Dery v. Tiger Eye PI & 2 Ors.
However, I cannot help but ask, how do I get access to such information? Who must I approach for such needed information? How long would I have to wait before I get access to official records or documents? These questions among others unaccountably arise when one seeks to obtain public information despite the much touted, constitutionally guaranteed right to information.
Bureaucratic processes would become the citizen’s headache; one that no Paracetamol or F-pack could alleviate. Corrupt officials, individuals and institutions would employ numerous nefarious maneuvers to frustrate the hapless citizen. In the end, court litigation would be the only recourse, right into the trap set by the sneaky corrupt man. When can a citizen expect to get a remedy in a Ghanaian court? Days? Months? Years? who knows? Justice delayed is Justice denied! All this while, Corrupt Kojo and his cronies would be up to their usual mischief, confident in the knowledge that any attempt to peek under their veil of clandestine activities and shadow dealings would be thwarted by the very same justice system that is supposed to serve the people. What a shame indeed!
Freedom of information is a prerequisite and one of the hallmarks of democratic governance. A Right to Information Act would operationalize and give substance to Article 21(1)(f) of the Constitution. Only active and well-informed citizens can contribute meaningfully to the governance process and curb corruption. Even our President acknowledges this in his speech.
It cannot be denied that individuals still possess the right to information even without an Act of Parliament guaranteeing this right. However, the Right to Information Bill has been touted and thrown about that it has almost attained the status of a Holy Grail for laymen, journalists and the media. One might say that the ordinary layman has forgotten that he can exercise his right to information without it.
The Ashantis say, “Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight.” Such a sentiment falls flat in the Parliament of Ghana where the RTI bill has meandered through seventeen years of fire retardant administered by three successive governments. The NPP government managed to fast-track the passage of the Special Prosecutor’s Bill into law. How hard can it be to secure the passage of the RTI Bill into law. Could it be a subtle effort by the governors to deny the governed a constitutionally guaranteed right to information under the guise of passing a Bill to that effect? Could it be that the NPP government does not have the political will to pass such a bill into law? These questions and more, I leave to your humble judgment.