Good afternoon colleagues from the fourth estate, members of the Media Coalition on RTI, friends from civil society and members of the general public. We have invited you here this afternoon for three main reasons: first to introduce to you this Coalition; then to express our frustrations at how the men and women elected to represent us in Parliament have failed to do just that so far as the RTI Bill is concerned; and lastly to explain to you steps we will be taking to ensure that we live to our pledge to remain the conscience of the nation in respect of the RTI.
The Right to Information is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana and recognized as a right by international conventions on human rights. Ghana’s choice of democratic governance requires an active participation by all in the governance process, thereby making the right to information particularly relevant. It is only when those who are to participate in governance are well informed that they can contribute meaningfully. For about two decades, successive governments have failed to ensure the passage of a Right to Information (RTI) law that will give meaning to this constitutional provision. To describe a draft legislation that has been laid five times in Parliament since 2010 as a result of withdrawals or expiration of the tenure, as the most abused piece of draft legislation in the history of the 4th Republican Parliament will not be far from right.
Over the years, many civil society organizations and groups have implemented many interventions towards advocating for the passage of a credible RTI law. One of such interventions was a Media Soiree that brought together Hosts and Producers of leading television and radio talk shows on the RTI Bill on September 27, 2018, at the La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Accra. This activity put together by the RTI Coalition in collaboration with STAR-Ghana was part of activities to mark the year’s International Day on Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). At the meeting, which was called to whip up the interests of these show hosts and producers in the RTI Bill, participants mooted an idea to establish a Media Coalition to ensure a sustained media campaign towards the passage of the Bill. In just about one month, we have successfully mobilized over 120 journalists across the Country who have committed to using their respective platforms to heighten awareness on the Bill and to call on our Representatives in Parliament to do the needful.
We at the Parliamentary Network Africa, PNAfrica (formerly Parliamentary News Africa) have willingly accepted to serve as Secretariat to the Coalition which is currently run by a five-member Interim Steering Committee made up of Messrs. Elvis Darko (Finder Newspaper), Cecil Nii Obodia Wentum (GBC Radio); Abednego Asante Asiedu (Adom Fm/Parliamentary Press Corp), Clement Akoloh (afriwakeradio.com) and Ms. Vida Delali (The Punch Newspaper). The overall objective of this Coalition is to pursue media-led and media-run activities that will increase the pressure on Parliament to ensure that the House passes a credible RTI law without delay. We are particularly grateful to the RTI Coalition, STAR-Ghana, the GII Consortium, and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) for the invaluable support they have offered us so far. We call on them and others who believe in this worthy course to come along and join us to ensure that a credible RTI law is passed without delay.
It is very frustrating and unacceptable that the men and women who have been elected to represent us in Parliament, have done the exact opposite so far as the RTI Bill is concerned, by representing themselves, their party interests and throwing the national interest to the dogs. In many instances, Parliament has exhibited clear acts of dishonesty and disrespect to the people they represent as they have in these instances hidden behind their Standing Orders to dribble the people of Ghana. We crave your indulgence to consider the following;
On 5th February 2010 when the RTI Bill was first laid in Parliament, the Parliamentary Committee of that 5th Parliament that had the Bill referred to did not come back to plenary with their report until the tenure of that Parliament expired about three years later.
Then came the 6th Parliament which got the Bill laid before it on 12th November 2013 and taken through various stages of the law-making process only to be withdrawn and re-laid for the process to begin all over again on 18th October 2016 – 50 days to a General Election! To have the Majority and Minority Members of that Parliament to disingenuously portray to us that a Bill they had not been able to pass in six years at the time could be passed in about two months from the expiration of their tenure can only be described as citizens being taken for granted by their elected leaders.
Then came the current Parliament – the 7th Parliament – whose first attempt at the RTI Bill was also a cunning display of deceit, and this is why: After sustained pressure from Civil Society following the promise of H.E. Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo at this year’s 6th March parade to have the Bill laid and passed in Parliament before the end of that Meeting of Parliament (NB: that meeting ended on 23rd March 2018), our MPs – the very people we queued in the sun to get them elected – decided to allow a Bill that was obviously of no urgent nature at the time to be laid on the last Sitting Day of the Meeting without being Gazetted. The results of this is that they succeeded in creating the illusion that the Bill has been laid, only for them to return from their Easter break and have the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee call for the withdrawal of the Bill in order to now lay the properly Gazetted copy and have the process restarted.
We consider the call by Mr. Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah (Hon. MP and Information Minister-designate) as the last GJA Awards ceremony as a tacit admission by the Executive branch of Government that the people of Ghana cannot hold them responsible any longer for a delay in the passage of the RTI law because they have done their part and expect the Legislative Branch to do its part. For the avoidance of doubt, these were the exact words of Mr. Oppong-Nkrumah, “Parliament is seized with the RTI Bill, and I urge you [the media] also to encourage Ghanaians to reach out to their Members of Parliament to treat that Bill with the sense of urgency that it deserves.” So we have taken upon ourselves this task because we know the media gets results.
Having clearly stated our purpose and formation as a Coalition, and recounted the actions and inactions of Parliament in respect of the RTI Bill, we now wish to announce these series of interventions that we will pursue from today until the Bill gets passed. By this Press Conference, we are serving notice to Parliament, the Rt. Hon. Speaker, the Majority and Minority caucuses, and the Clerk to Parliament to beware of the following, as disregarding our request will be a serious mistake on their parts.
1. After today’s Press Conference, we will write to the Leadership of Parliament to reiterate these same points that we are transmitting through you, our dear colleagues of the press, to ensure that even if they put off their radio and tv sets and refuse to read the newspapers or online news portals, they will still see our letters delivered personally to their respective offices.
2. We will circulate this press statement to the WhatsApp numbers of all MPs as our way of serving them notice duly.
3. As Parliament’s 3rd Meeting for the year begins tomorrow, we will work closely with the Parliamentary Press Corp (PPC) to ensure that there is constant media pressure in Parliament to keep our MPs in a constant notice that we are serious about this call. As a starting point, we call on all of you here present and members of the PPC to be present in the galleries of Parliament tomorrow morning to observe the day’s Sittings peacefully and look out for indications on RTI. After this, we will not hesitate to picket in Parliament House regularly, and in some instances, boycott the coverage of Plenary and Committee Sittings should we see no clear actions of Parliament towards the passage of the law.
4. In tomorrow’s First Sitting, we will be curious to find out how much consideration Parliament’s Business Committee proposes to be given to the RTI Bill in this week’s Business Statement and for the rest of the Meeting. We know the Committee will be meeting early tomorrow morning as the Orders of the House requires, and hence we call on Mr. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu (Hon. Majority Leader & Chairman of the Committee) and Mr. Haruna Iddrisu (Hon. Minority Leader and Ranking Member of the Committee) to ensure that their Committee does the needful.
5. We will leverage on our respective media platforms to constantly talk about RTI; engaging regularly with Managers and Editors of mainstream and regional media houses as well as community radio stations to ensure that every member of society understands the usefulness of an RTI regime as one that benefits all citizens and non-citizens alike, including the MPs themselves, and not only for journalist.
6. We will not hesitate to work with Ghanaian media persons home and abroad to display RTI Passage placards at all local and international functions of the Speaker of Parliament, the Majority and Minority Leaders, and the President. This is to register our displeasure at the lip service they have paid to this law and to demand more action and less talk from them.
7. We are going to track all promises made by public officials on the RTI Bill, and name and shame them for non-compliance to these promises. Our lenses will additionally be fixed on MPs who through their actions/inactions oppose the speedy passage of a credible RTI law.
8. Having closely followed the numerous engagements of CSOs with Parliament on this Bill, we announce our endorsement of the proposed amendments to the “problematic clauses” of the Bill as carefully outlined by the network of CSOs and circulated to all MPs, and call on Parliament to ensure that all these proposed amendments are adhered to in our bid to ensure the passage of credible RTI law. We want a right to information law and not a Denial of Information law.
9. We announce our hashtag #PassItNow for the information of the general public and call on all Ghanaians to tweet at their MPs and engage with them on Facebook using this hashtag. We also endorse the other civil society hashtag #PassTheRTIBillNow, as we appeal to media houses to help us get these to go viral, as it is a fact that the top trends on social media in Ghana are mainly campaigns promoted by media houses.
10. Finally, we will not hesitate to publish the contact information of all MPs on various media platforms to get the public calling, emailing and mentioning their MPs on social media to #PassItNow.
In conclusion, we are requesting people who create the impression that the passage of the RTI law will empower journalists to be irresponsible with information in their publications to desist from this act of unfair generalization. Ghana has a good number of responsible journalists who have been the reasons for getting the news to the general public constantly and timely and exposing great rot by public officials and private persons despite very terrible conditions of service for journalists in this country and the great dangers we encounter in doing our work. To make such generalizations can be akin to asking that no elections are held in this country because some politicians who get elected steal public money, or asking for the dissolution of Parliament because a few MPs abuse their rights and privileges including some alleged involvement in visa fraud and bribery. The right to information is a fundamental human right and we the members of the Media Coalition on RTI, are poised to ensure that this right is granted to all Ghanaians. Why should we be behind many countries in the world and even in the West African Sub-Region so far as an RTI law is concerned? Ghanaian deserve better!
We thank you all for coming and look forward to a Tuesday morning tomorrow where our newspapers, radio and tv shows and online platforms will be inundated with matters of the RTI.