World Bank Supportive of Ghana FOI Bill

14 February 2011

By Toby McIntosh

Supporters of a freedom of information bill for Ghana, feeling tantalizingly close to seeing parliamentary action, are now waiting to see if parliamentary leaders will suggest a “reasonable” budget and timetable for country-wide consultations.

The Word Bank has indicated its willingness to finance the consultations but rejected a proposal from parliamentarians to spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars on meetings in every region of the country with many lawmakers attending.

A second, scaled-back plan is  expected.

While passage of a FOI bil by parliament is considered possible, but some activists sense slackened support and suspect that the consultation process is being used as a delaying tactic.  One key parliamentarian was quoted in late January as saying that a lack of funds for consultations was interfering with action on the bill, which was forwarded by the Cabinet in 2010.  (See previous report.)

Funding, however, should not be a problem, according to both a World Bank official and members of the Coalition for the Right to Information. The Bank for some time has indicated its willingness to underwrite less comprehensive consultations, to the tune of $60,000 to $80,000.  

This would be just one of the several steps the World Bank has taken over several years to encourage passage of FOI legislation.

Countering the expansive consultation plan proposed by parliamentarians, the Bank and the Coalition suggested holding four consultations, in Accra and three regions of the country, to be attended primarily by parliamentarians from the two committees considering the bill. Parliamentarians have yet to respond, however.

In recent weeks, activists have marched twice to the parliament building to urge action on the bill. (See previous articles.)

Holding consultations on prospective legislation is not uncommon, Coalition members said, but rarely on the scale initially proposed by parliament.

The proposed FOI bill has the support of the government, which promised the World Bank in 2009 that it would offer a FOI bill.  The World Bank works mainly with the executive branches of governments and does not put conditions on parliaments.

Among other efforts to encourage enactment of a FOI bill, the World Bank supplied technical assistance that included setting up video conferences to better acquaint activists in Ghana with FOI laws abroad.

Supporters of the bill consider it a little weak and hope it can be improved during the legislative process. Among other things, the Coalition has asked for creation of an independent oversight body to enforce the RTI law and a reduction in the number of proposed exemptions.  Moreover, the statement says that “the Bill must cover not just government agencies but also private sector and chieftaincy institutions, which all play key roles in national trade and development initiatives.”  Fees for accessing information “must be minimal,” the Coalition has said.

The World Bank also has been encouraging the parliament to include meaningful transparency provisions in an oil and gas measure that is now dominating parliament’s time.

The government has committed itself to bringing the oil and gas sectors into compliance with international transparency standards, and has established a multi-stakeholder steering committee on the topic. In a related development, the revenue management bill includes clauses on disclosure of future contacts and how oil and gas revenues are spent, among other things.

Looking ahead, the World Bank has reached accord with the government on conducting pilot projects on information dissemination in the ministries of energy and information and in one municipality.  Work is also underway on a project to improve records management in anticipation of a FOI bill.

In addition, the Bank is working with several groups to improve transparency about the budget and about how it is written. One component of this effort will support annual preparation of an independent budget analysis.

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