We do not pass laws and postpone their operational dates. We did so with the Right to Information Act 2019 (Act 989). We delayed its implementation by a year, ostensibly, to budget and prepare for a smooth rollout. Yet this is the mother of all anti-corruption tools we had spent two decades fighting for. A couple of months ago, I realised how it is laughable to jubilate over its passage in 2019.

A colleague and law teacher, Diana Asonaba Dapaah, returned from her legal vacation with a valuable gift of a book; ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTS AS A HUMAN RIGHT. I read how Sweden and Finland had cherished the principles of RTI over 250 years now. They passed specific RTI laws in the 17 and 1800s. We certainly knew the right to public information is a human right in 1992 and fixed a clause for it in article 21 of the Constitution. So, why can’t we seem to give the implementation of RTI a priority in 2020?

In part I last week, I indicated I shall be taking you into our RTI law so you know how to request information and what to do when your request is refused. I mentioned that there should by now be the independent RTI Commission with a 7-member board to drive implementation of the law. The President is enjoined by the law to appoint people with expertise who must not “occupy any other office of profit or engage in any partisan political activity”.

It is to “promote, monitor, protect and enforce” your right to information. It is this commission’s job to create awareness and give education on your right to information. Public institutions, mandatorily, must publish manuals telling you the kinds of information they generate and store, which departments you must contact and the manual must contain contact details of an information officer to whom you should submit your requests. But these institutions require guidelines to prepare these manuals which the RTI Commission must have published by now.

The Commission will oversee and compel information holders (public institutions) to set up the structures and procedures for smooth implementation of the law. It is empowered to exact administrative fines from defaulting institutions. It is the third level of appeal for the redress of complaints and it may assist you to get the information you may be denied by an institution under the pretext that such information is exempt from disclosure.

By the law, if you put in a request and the information officer at a particular institution refuses you, you appeal to the head of that institution for a review of the decision denying you access to the particular information or document. So, without the Commission, your next port of call will only be the High Court, which also means money and time, a major reason the broad scanty article 21 constitutional provision was not enough and the reason we needed this law.

Mr President, where is the RTI Commission?

Mr President, when will the RTI Commission be set up?

Samson Lardy ANYENINI
January 25, 2020