The Coalition on the Right to Information (RTI) has reiterated the need for the effective implementation of the RTI Law in order to ensure access to information by the citizenry.
It said the effective implementation and use of RTI Law requires driving both the 'supply side' (government establishing the internal systems and ensuring compliance) and 'demand side' (citizenry using the law to demand for information and monitoring implementation).
The RTI Coalition in a statement, copied to the Ghana News Agency to mark the first anniversary after the Presidential Assent to the RTI Act, 2019 (Act 989), noted that the law became effective on 2nd January 2020, as per the provisions of the Act.
It said sadly, one year after the assent and 141 days since it took effect, major milestones as set out by the supervising Ministry, the Ministry of Information, in its roadmap towards the implementation of the Act have still not seen the light of day.
It said notable amongst these milestones are to; set up the RTI Commission Office, appoint Commissioners and fully staff and train the Office (all by 10th October, 2019), and equip the Office of Head of Civil Service to set up Information Units within all public institutions; and recruit, train and place Information Officers in these Units (by end of August 2019).
The rest are design template of Information Manual for Public Institutions (by September 9th, 2019), and draft a Legislative Instrument and lay same before Parliament by October 2019.
It said the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ghana in March, has definitely disrupted government plans and redirected the attention of the Ministry of Information that had become the focal point for coordinating public communication on government's response to the virus.
The statement said the response to the virus outbreak has itself presented an opportunity for government to act in ways consistent with the RTI Act.
In this respect, the RTI Coalition was happy to observe the proactive and responsive attitude the government has shown in providing information on the pandemic to the public.
"We are therefore minded to commend the President, Ministries of Information, Health, and the other relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government for living up to the tenets of the RTI Act 2019," it said.
"While, we acknowledge the challenges brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, the Coalition wishes to emphasize that access to timely and adequate information and the need for implementing the RTI roadmap has become more important than ever in these times of COVID-19."
It said crucially, Ghanaians need to know exactly what Government was doing to tackle the crisis, and how duty bearers would be held to account for policies and the increased emergency related public spending during these times.
It said but more importantly was having the appropriate mechanism for accessing such critical information. Monitoring the Global situation, we have observed some threats to many countries' obligations on access to information and public health which must not emerge in our own Country.
The statement noted that these include some governments trying to limit criticism of poor decision-making or restrict human rights or hide corruption in emergency legislations that limit access to information about the pandemic and/or extend the deadlines by which governments had to respond to information requests; and the tendency
to have public access to information deprioritized while public services are reduced.
It said under no circumstances must any government use the pandemic as an opportunity to cover up ineffectiveness, corruption or wider human rights abuses.
It said to this end, the Coalition calls on government not to neglect its obligations under the RTI Act because they were dealing with a pandemic.
It said all building blocks towards the effective implementation of the RTI Act must be put in place without any further delay.
"We encourage government to continue to be proactive in sharing information and remain responsive to citizens' feedback and questions about the information government is supplying."
It said details of all contracts, grants, loans, support to companies, and other spending, as well as information on members of all committees providing scientific, economic or other advice to public bodies must be readily available to the public.
It said governance, human rights and law enforcement information must also not be left out of disclosure.
"Similarly, we call on all citizens to take advantage of the RTI Act to demand information on public health data around coronavirus cases, deaths, testing, facilities, the country's involvement in drug trials, contingency planning and other issues."