Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta writes…Obviously

Never mind what the Electoral Commission's register says, in the 25 years since Ghana returned to democracy, the only real political parties we have in Ghana are the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Obviously. The Right to Information (RTI) Bill is in spite of their collective bipartisan waffling, back on the front burner. Earlier this month, President Akufo-Addo declared as definitively as he pledged to deliver free secondary school education and the Office of the Special Prosecutor, that the RTI Bill will proceed to Parliament.

A Call To Arms

After 16 years of asking and waiting, the concentrated advocacy power of the Citizen Vigilantes who this week took the President at his words, literally, and proceeded again to the streets with fliers and the airwaves with powerful messages has yielded results. Within 24 hours of the civil society call to arms, Ghana's Cabinet, apparently under its own independent steam, has finally decided to address the RTI Bill.  According to a statement attributed to the Vice President, Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia, Cabinet has approved a revised version of the Bill.  Just in time for Parliament to rise for Easter recess on Friday, March 23, 2018. Obviously.  

A Fumbled Back Pass

As this column went to bed, there was no independent information that confirmed that the revised Bill has actually been laid before Parliament, nor had its contents been sighted here, there or anywhere.

Even if the RTI Bill has wended its way from Cabinet to the House, consider the following. The Speaker will be required to acknowledge receipt and per the Standing Orders, refer the Bill to the relevant Committee. Members of the Committee and the House will have to be provided copies. In the 21st century, Mr Speaker should require the multiple iPhones wielding Members to step up on technology, save paper and ink, download the Bill.  If saved between their WhatsApp and Facebook apps, chances for individual Members engagement on the Bill will likely be high.

Typically, in order to ensure inclusion and governance, after the Committee has received the Bill, it should invite public opinions and consult. The Committee will listen, ask probing questions, research best practice, legal provisions and debate amongst themselves before they present their informed opinions to the House for debate. 

We must assume that in the next 72 hours, all 275 diligent Members will stay up all night, read every single line of the RTI Bill, exercise their considerable faculties and come to the House ready for a full and reasoned debate on this and other pending matters.  After which, in the collective interest of advancing governance and fighting corruption in Ghana, a cause to which both parties have publicly pledged, the Honourable will vote yay or nay, pending presidential signature. Then we will have an RTI Law.  What are the chances of this fumbled back pass succeeding in this orderly fashion? 

Certificate of Emergency

Parliament could proceed as it has done previously to pull a virtual all-nighter and in the next 72 hours, dispense of the RTI and its backlog of work under certificates of emergency. There is something else of equal national importance for Members to consider.

On March 20, the Daily Graphic published this headline 'Meteo predicts downpours during the rainy season.' Like, really?  Where is the news and value in telling residents of a tropical country, in its traditional rainy season, that it will rain?  Except there is news.  Business, social, political and frankly, life-changing news.

7 Out of 10

The Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMA), has sounded the cautious alarm. Starting in the month of March but particularly between April and July, they say there will be unusually strong winds and rain that could lead to flooding and water-related diseases. Seven out of the 10 regions across the country will be impacted – Greater Accra, Central, Eastern, Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, parts of the Volta and Western region. There are lives, property, businesses, events and votes that could be at risk. 

As a collective, shouldn't the Honourable Members, before they retire to their constituencies on Friday – some may be in the front line of adverse weather conditions – also press this Government to advise definitively what the coordinated emergency response plans will be across the country in the event of an emergency as has been forecast? We have a right to that information.

Eye In The Sky

The United Kingdom (UK) does have a Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c.36).  It is this facility beginning in 2005, that enabled dogged efforts by the media and individuals culminating finally, in a 2008 order by the Information Commissioner to the House of Commons to provide access to the detailed records of expenses filed by 6 MPs including then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former PM Tony Blair. 

A number of legal manoeuvres later, embarrassing apologies and resignations, 4 MPs and 2 Members of the House of Lord's jailed, a number of MPs there were compelled to return sums of money to the public purse. Also significant, was the attempt by the House to reform its internal processes on how MPs can claim expenses and the establishment of a new independent investigation office to address breaches of the new rules.

The UK is also home to the most comprehensive CCTV surveillance cameras – in 2016, there were an estimated 4 million to 5.9 million in the UK, one for every 14 people.  The announcement last week by President Akufo-Addo of the impending introduction of some 8,700 surveillance cameras to help the Ghana Police Service (GPS) detect, investigate and combat crime is welcome. 

When Parliament returns, will an Honourable Member kindly assert our right to information on when, where, how, where, when and why cameras will be deployed, data stored and used legally? We have a right to live in peace, it is the GPS that must deliver this within its Transformation Agenda backed by technology. And there is also a line, constantly debated, where we must protect individual privacy and simultaneously advance national security.  Happy Easter to our 275 MPs.  Obviously.