WHAT IS THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2019?

The Right to Information Act, 2019 (Act 989), is an Act of Parliament that provides for the implementation of the constitutional right of persons to access official information held by public institutions (and relevant private institutions that receive public resources or perform public functions), subject to the exemptions that are necessary and consistent with the protection of public interest in Ghana.

Information under the RTI Act, 2019 refers to a recorded matter or material (regardless of form or medium) in the possession or under control or custody of a public institution.

IMPORTANCE OF THE RTI

• Encourages participatory in democratic decisions by all citizens and non-citizens alike.
• Ensures transparent and open governance.
• Ensures accountability.
• Ensures integrity in Governance.
• Checks Corruption

WHY RTI ACT, 2019 IS A GOOD LAW

• Solid Legal Framework
• Clear Application Procedures
• Clear turn around times on Requests
• Proactive Disclosure of Information
• Oversight Body
• Effective Appeal Mechanism
• Sanctions

THE ROLE OF PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS UNDER THE RTI ACT, 2019

• Establish Information Unit (RTI Unit)
• Designate an officer to head the Information Unit
• Compile and publish an up-to-date Information Manual annually
• Keep accurate and authentic information
• Ensure proper archival system of information
• Ensure timely retrieval of information
• Facilitate access to information by applicants
• Submit Annual Report to the RTI Commission

BACKGROUND

Ghana recognised the right to public information as a human right in 1992 and made a provision for it in the 1992 Constitution. Article 21(1) (f) of the constitution states that “All persons shall have the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary for a democratic society”. This provision guarantees a person – irrespective of gender, nationality, and ethnicity and any other physical or social differentiation – access to information in the custody of a “public institution” and any “relevant private body”.

The United Nations (UN) also recognises access to information as a Universal Right and a critical tool in strengthening democracy and promoting transparency, accountability, open governance, and sustainable developments. The Right to Information Act, 2019 provides the framework to foster a culture of transparency in public affairs in Ghana.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in 1999 drafted the first Bill that sought to promulgate access to public information in Ghana. The consideration of this Bill went through five different political administrations and, after two decades, was finally passed into Law in March 2019 as the Right to Information Act, 2019 (ACT 989). The President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo assented to it on May 21, 2019, and in accordance with Section 86, the Act was expected to “come into force at the commencement of the next financial year”. This was necessary to ensure that the needed infrastructure and resources were put in place. The application of the RTI Act, 2019 (ACT 989) began in January 2020 and is binding on all public sector institutions. The Act applies to information that exists before and after the commencement of the Act.

Following the historic passage of this law, the Ministry of Information was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that public institutions are adequately prepared and ready to deliver satisfactorily on their obligations under Act 989. The Ministry led the process for the planning and implementation of a strategic roadmap. This process was undertaken in consultation with key stakeholders, including the Parliament Select Committee on Communications, the RTI Coalition, the Data Protection Commission, UNESCO Ghana, and the Heads of the Civil and Local Government Services. The stakeholders guided the formation and development of appropriate and standardized systems, as well as a framework for the implementation of the RTI Act, to avoid breaches and guarantee smooth operationalisation. The Ministry acknowledges the support and contribution of these key stakeholders in ensuring the smooth take-off of this important public policy.

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ROADMAP

•  Recruitment and Posting of Information Officers

The Ministry in collaboration with the Office of the Head of Civil Service obtained financial clearance and recruited Information Officers to staff the information units of the selected MDAs and ATI Division of ISD. The officers have been trained to process requests for information made by individuals/organizations. Thus far, these officers have assumed duty and are, accordingly performing their responsibilities.

•  Establishment of the Access to Information (ATI) Division of the Information Services Department (ISD)

The ATI Division was established and Commissioned within ISD on 17th July 2020. It was initially established as a Secretariat to support the implementation processes.

The Division trains and deploys RTI Officers to MDAs to service access requests of the respective MDA’s. It also provides back-end support to RTI Officers on their daily activities. The ATI division is also responsible for executing all other obligations of the Minister under the RTI Act.

The ATI Division segmented public institutions into Six sectors listed below and assigned schedule officers with oversight functions for each:
i. Infrastructure sector
ii. Economic sector
iii. Administrative sector
iv. Public safety sector
v. Social sector
vi. MMDAs

•  Capacity Building

The Ministry embarked on capacity development activities to equip personnel of the division with the relevant knowledge and skills to fully deliver RTI obligations.

• Development Of Data Mapping Tool and Template for the RTI manual

Section3(1) of the Act requires all public institutions to annually compile and publish an information manual. This serves to document the nature and scope of information that may be accessed by an applicant within that institution. To this end, the Ministry designed an online-based data mapping tool (rtidatamapping.gov.gh) and an accompanying user guide as well as a tool for the development of an information manual and its accompanying user guide. This facilitates the compliance of public institutions in compiling and publishing up-to-date information manuals. The online tool is active and very useful to RTI officers.

• Online platform for archiving and retrieval of information

The Ministry also developed an Online Records Management System to provide an IT-led solution to archive and retrieve information under the RTI Act. It is intended to facilitate the digitizing of all information in the public sector, enable Records and RTI officers to manage applications and ease the process of accessing information. It is accompanied by a user guide to facilitate its use by public institutions.

• Training of Officers

Thus far, a total of 1055 officers of the Public Services (including designated and appointe officers) had been engaged to play various roles in the implementation of the RTI Act. This comprised 478 designated Officers, 478 records officers and 99 recruited Information Officers who were trained and resourced to facilitate the processing of requests received by the institution.

THE RTI COMMISSION

The RTI Act, 2019 provides for the establishment of an independent commission to be known as the Right to Information Commission. The President, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo, On Monday, 19th October 2020, inaugurated a seven-member Governing Board of the Right to Information Commission (Under the Chairmanship of his Lordship, Justice K.A. Ofori-Atta) at the jubilee house. The Commission has a mandate to promote, monitor, protect and enforce the right to information that is granted a person.
Following from its inauguration the Ministry held a two-day workshop for members of the Commission.
This workshop was ultimately planned to enable the Commission to familiarize itself with the legal provisions of the RTI law, Internal operations of the implementation agency (i.e., The Information Services Department the Ministry of Information) and the status of implementation of the right to information act as of November 2020.

OVERVIEW OF THE RTI ACT, 2019.

STRUCTURE

•   Access to Information – (Section 1-4)
•   Exemptions – (Section 5-17)
•   Procedure for Access – (Section 18-30)
•   Reviews and Appeals – (Section 31-39)
•   Establishment of Commission – (Section 40-54)
•   Administrative and Financial Provisions – (Section 55-64)
•   Application for review by the Commission – (Section 65-70)
•   Orders, decisions and directives – (Section 71)
•   General and Miscellaneous Provisions – (Section 72 -86)