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General News
Freedom Of Information Law Long Overdue - Bagbin 7/31/2007
Mr Alban Bagbin, Minority Leader, on Monday said the Freedom of Information law was long overdue as it was necessary for the public to know what was going on. "For information to be public good, there should be a law making it accessible and efforts to get the FOI bill passed are an effort to be supported by all," he said.

"I believe that for one to know his rights, responsibilities or duties, one needs to have the information that clearly defines those rights, responsibilities and duties," he added in a speech at the beginning of a two-day conference on Freedom of Information (FOI) in Accra.

The conference is designed for a cross-range of participants and all relevant stakeholders in FOI advocacy. It is expected to discuss the challenges and devisE measures to address them and bridge the gaps. Mr. Bagbin said for the public to know that the government was using the country''s resources in the interest of the people and that it was exercising power for them, society should have trust and confidence in the Administration.

According to him, he was part of the draft legislation team on FOI in 1999 before the NDC lost the 2000 elections. "It is unacceptable all this time for us to still say today that because we have problem with the storage and retrieval of information, we should use more time to put that in place before we pass the legislation."

Mr. Bagbin said the legislation would make the public know how information generated by government for public good was stored and the procedure for retrieving it.

Mr. Frank Agyekum, Government Spokesperson on Governance, said the government had passed several laws to ensure that there was transparency in governance.

He observed that African governments had not done enough to enact laws on FOI, but in Ghana a bill had been drafted to be sent to Parliament to be passed to make retrieval of information easy. Mr Agyekum gave the assurance that the government was desirous and committed to pass the FOI law.

Professor Kwame Karikari of the Media Foundation for West Africa noted that there was indication that there was a dire need to enact a legislation that clearly stipulated the content of the right to access information for democratic governance.

He said the right to information was recognized as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was legally enforceable under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples'' Rights.

Nana Oye Lithur, Regional Coordinator, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Africa Office, Ghana, noted that the new breed of African political leaders had adopted the New Partnership for Africa''s Development {NEPAD}, which envisioned governance reforms, eradication of poverty and economic growth.

She said under NEPAD some African countries had submitted themselves to be "peer reviewed" under the African Peer Review Mechanism. Nana Oye Lithur said public bodies held information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good, adding that everyone had a right to access information. Admittedly, she said, an effective system of checks and balances and strong political constitutions were critical to democratic governance in Africa.

"The task of promoting democracy faces a deepening set of challenges and contradictions as we move into the fourth decade, since the great wave of democratic expansion began in 1974," she added. Nana Oye Lithur stated that the critical issue was how to enhance good governance through transparency and accountability in Africa. "Access to public information is a requisite for the very functioning of democracy, greater transparency and good governance in a representative participatory democratic system."

Nana Oye said a large stockpile of valuable information lying with government was still deliberately held away from the people because of assumption that information was secret.

Source: GNA

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