Withholding public information is unconstitutional – Coalition

Ghana’s Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to access public information, says the Right To Information (RTI) Coalition and so denying the citizenry information is tantamount to a breach of the law.

The coalition says citizens were denied information based on refusal to provide justification adding that journalists, market women, traders, persons on the streets, hawkers and any ordinary person need not provide any justification before a public officer in custody of public information before the request is granted.

Mrs Ugonna Ukaigwe, Project Co-ordinator of the RTI, said in a statement to the Ghana News Agency on Friday that best practises on the RTI provided that public institutions held information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good.

She said public institutions were obliged to grant access to the citizenry subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.

“The RTI best practises DO NOT oblige a requester to disclose the reason or purpose of making a request,” she said.

Article 21(1) (f) of the 1992 Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to access information subject to those limitations that were necessary in a democratic society.

“Despite the Constitutional recognition and guarantee of the right as a fundamental human right, most public officials are yet to understand the import of this right and their responsibilities in terms of granting access to the public,” she said.

“This means that any denial based on the requesters’ refusal to provide justification for the request or to show affiliation to a particular institution is at best unconstitutional,” Mrs Ukaigwe said.

According to the coalition, it findings from the various researches suggested that public institutions were unwilling to release information where the reason or purpose of the request was not stated.

It said officers also refused to release information where the head of the institution or the officer in charge of collating data was unavailable; or the information sought had to do with financial transactions or records on funds; or the request was unrelated to the requester’s academic work as a student and where a similar request or requests had been made by another requester within the same period.

Mrs Ukaigwe said citizens’ access to information held by public institutions was recognised globally as a fundamental right with very limited exceptions, however, in countries like Ghana, the right appeared to be the exception rather than the norm.

She said the coalition had observed that in Ghana the decision as to whether or not to grant access to information by public institutions was often based on a “parochial understanding of what the right to information entails.”

The Africa Union Model Law provides under Article 6(b) and (c) that ‘every public body and relevant private body must arrange all information in its possession systematically and in a manner that facilitates prompt and easy identification.

The model also enjoins officers to keep all information in its possession in good condition and in a manner that preserves the safety and integrity of its contents.

Mrs Ukaigwe said as Ghana joined the rest of the world to celebrate the ‘Right to Know Day,” RTI campaigners are saddled with the challenge of engendering a change of culture, mindset and attitude among public officials.

“Indeed Ghana’s participation on the Open Government Partnership Initiative will be meaningless without the availability of information about governmental activities,” she said. GNA

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