MPs to decide on urgency of assess to public information

The Right to Information Bill (RTI), Wednesday, took center stage of deliberations in the chamber of Parliament when Members met to consider the government business for the day.

The Members having deliberated over the Bill for sometime came to a deadlock when Clause 1 sub-clause 4 was put on the table for discussions.

The said clause as it stands requires anyone who seeks urgent information to give reason (s) as to why he or she is urgently seeking for that public information.

Proponents of the Bill who were in favour of the said clause told the House that the condition provided for in the said clause was apt since it would assist the government agency from where the information is being sought from to provide it on time and with a little cost.

But this response received stiff opposition from some Minority Members who argued that if the said clause is maintained, it would defeat the purpose or object of the RTI Bill.

Deputy Attorney-General, Dominic Ayine, who supports the said clause told the House that assigning a reason for seeking an urgent information will prevent putting pressure on public officials.

“It is important to note that when you are seeking for public information and you are putting pressure on the public official under circumstances that cost will be incurred, the public authority is entitled to know the reason why such information is urgent. The brain behind it is to not to turn the public officials into administrative body”, he noted.

His argument was supported by the Majority Leader, Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin. He insists that for someone to urgently assess public information there should be cost implication.

MP for Ablekuma West, Ursula Owusu Ekuful contributing to the discussions objected to suggestions that there should be a reason assigned to assessing urgent information.

That aside, she said if one would also be required to pay extra cost for assessing urgent information from a public institution then there shouldn’t be a request to assign a reason for assessing the information urgently “in the first place”.

“The urgency comes with the desire of whoever is seeking that information to receive it earlier than the normal procedure. So, if that person will have to pay an extra fee for assessing that information urgently, then we do not have to create additional requirement for giving a reason for seeking that information because it is urgent”.

MP for Abuakwa South, Samuel Atta Akyea on his part said the condition attached to seeking for urgent public information contradicts the spirit under which the RTI Bill is being enacted.

“It is contradictory to say that at one breadth you do not assign reasons to assess information but when it is urgent then you have assign reasons. Immediately you assign reasons – in so far as you provide reasons which are not palatable to the public officer, he or she will say no it is not urgent. So, it the condition of assigning reasons requesting for urgent information should not be entertained”, he added.

Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Edward Doe Adjaho, who seems not convinced about assigning reason to assessing public information, reminded the proponents of the clause to be careful with their proposal because it may put impediments on people’s way in assessing information.

If I give a reason, is there somebody to tell me that my reason is attainable or unattainable. And if I have the right to assess information, why should someone tell me that the reason I am giving is attainable or not?”

He believes that if one needs to assess public information it should come with an extra cost rather than to assign a reason to assessing for it.

Decision on the said clause, he noted would be taking during the second consideration of the Bill.

The rationale for the Bill is to give right and access to official information held by public institutions, private entities which perform public functions with public funds.

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 will 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 in a democratic society”.

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