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Ghana: Hosting World Press Freedom Day without RTI law would be embarrassing

A general view of the Parliament of Ghana during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit, in Accra, 1 March 2016
A general view of the Parliament of Ghana during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit, in Accra, 1 March 2016

Okan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on on 30 January 2018.

On May 2 and 3 2018, Ghana will host the global community for the celebration of this year's World Press Freedom Day (WPFD). It will be the first time Ghana is serving as the host country for the global event and the only country in West Africa after Senegal to host this important event.

The WPFD is commemorated annually around the world under the stewardship of UNESCO and its global partners including governments. The day is observed to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to advance the cause of journalism.

One of the fundamental requirements for the advancement of journalism, which is also recognised as a fundamental human right, is the right to access information. Indeed, peoples' right to information guaranteed by law and respected in practice constitutes a very foundational pre-requisite for strengthening democracy and ensuring good governance.

The importance of the Right to Information (RTI) as a fundamental right and an enabler of democracy is reflected in its codification in several international and continental human rights mechanisms and frameworks.

At the international level, RTI is guaranteed in Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In Africa, RTI is guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption; the African Union Youth Charter; among others.

Over the years, therefore, a number of African countries have adopted RTI Laws as part of the processes for deepening democratic governance. Indeed, in the last six years alone, the number of African countries that have adopted RTI Laws has increased from five to 21 including more than half of West African countries.

Surprisingly and quite embarrassingly, Ghana, which is touted as a beacon of democracy in Africa has failed to have an RTI Law in place despite over a decade of civil society advocacy for the passage of such a fundamental law.

Different governments under the fourth republic had made promises to enact the law but failed. The current NPP administration appears to be towing the same line of promising to pass the law and failing to do so.

While in opposition, the NPP promised in its 2016 Election manifesto (chapter 12, page 137) that it will "ensure the passage of the right to information bill if the present parliament delays in doing so." As if to redeem their manifesto promise, on assuming office on January 7, 2017, senior government officials including the Vice President and Ministers of State have given different timelines in 2017 for the passage of the RTI Bill, all of which have passed unfulfilled.

The upcoming WPFD presents a major opportunity for the government of Ghana to showcase Ghana's democratic ideals to the world. It will therefore be extremely embarrassing for Ghana not to have in place an RTI Law which is one of the cardinal pieces of legislation that advances democracy, human rights, and transparent and accountable governance.

While serving as Attorney General in the previous NPP regime, the role HE President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo played in the repeal of the criminal libel law in 2001 is widely recognized. It will therefore be another significant moment for the President to sign into law, Ghana's RTI Bill before the global gathering in Ghana.

Indeed it will be gratifying to hear the President say before a global audience that he has signed Ghana's long standing RTI Bill into law.

The MFWA, therefore, makes a passionate appeal to His Excellency the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and the leadership of Parliament to take all appropriate steps to ensure the passage of Ghana's RTI Bill and having it signed into Law before the country hosts the world to mark WPFD.

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