World Bank Reaches Deal With MPs in Ghana

8 July 2011

By Toby McIntosh 

Key members of Parliament in Ghana have committed to hold regional consultations  on the proposed right to information bill, FreedomInfo.org has learned.

The sessions will be held during the summer recess from mid-July to mid-August in five locations around the country.

Members of Parliament have said since late last year that they wanted to hold hearings on the bill, but that they lacked the finances to do it.

The World Bank long had offered to underwrite the expense, but had rejected Parliament’s proposed consultation schedule and budget as excessive. The final agreement is a third of the original request.  Early proposals from Parliament envisioned meetings in virtually every district at a cost of $150,000.  (See previous report in FreedomInfo.org.)  

Months of discussions ensued. Among other things, members of Parliament asked of $150 per diem allowances, well above the standard World Bank rate of $30.

Now agreement has been reached on a $50,000 budget (and $30 per diems). Under the plan, 9-10 members, plus a few staff members, will travel to the five consultations during the summer break that commences July 22.

The meetings will be conducted in 5 regions: Tamale (for the northern sector), Kumasi (mid-sector), Takoradi (Western sector), Koforidua (Eastern sector), Accra (Greater Accra), and either Ho (Volta Region) or Caper Coast (Central Region).

The Bank also is pledging to continue to help supporters of the legislation with a projected budget of $49,000.  

Criticisms of Bill

The Right to Information Coalition is a main advocacy group on the legislation. The group earlier this year staged marches outside of Parliament in an attempt to prompt action. The coalition is critical of the bill and recommended that it be strengthened.

Coalition leader Nan Oye Lithur earlier this year said that “numerous provisions in the bill had still not been reviewed to reflect international best practice standards.” Critics also are concerned about the possibility of high fees to requesters and the lack of coverage of private bodies.    

The Ghana media commission also said the bill requires “further revision,” supporting the idea of an information commission.  The commission urged Parliament “to look critically at the exemption clauses to ensure that all exemptions are reasonably necessary, that they are based on a harm’s test and are narrowly formulated to protect a legitimate public interest.”

Also, the timelines for disclosure of information should be shorter and fees should be “the barest minimum required for the reproduction of the information,” the media commission said.

Recently a top minister reiterated that President John Atta Mill’s administration is committed to the passage of the stalled bill. (See FreedomInfo.org report.)

The validity of this commitment was questioned in a recent blog post by Edward Balami of the Ghana Institute of Journalism who wrote, “The current NDC government and their NPP predecessors have overseen a country which has been hailed internationally as an African democratic success story, yet both parties have done little to move the bill forward.”

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