To fast-track the access to information process, the Ministry of Information, has announced that it will launch a platform for right to information applications to be delivered online.
The Head of Access to Information Directorate at the Information Services Department, Dr. Winifred Nafisa Mahama, said this at the Right to Information Stakeholders’ Conference held at the premises of the RTI Commission in Accra on Monday.
“We are all moving to a digitized system, and so there are technological processes in place to move application processes online. Hopefully, by the end of the year, it will be launched, and people will be able to apply on the ghana.gov platform,” she announced at a panel discussion on the theme “Implementation of RTI Act 2019 (Act 989): Challenges, Solutions and the Way Forward.”
The online platform, according to her, will address the myriad of challenges associated with requesting for information.
Her comments come on the back of recent complaints about the unavailability of information officers at some public institutions, as well as the heckling some applicants endure at the hands of public officials.
Dr Winifred Nafisa Mahama believes these incidents frustrate information seekers and make the implementation of the law tedious.
Before Dr. Nafisa made this disclosure, the Executive Secretary of the RTI Commission, Mr. Yaw Sarpong Boateng, highlighted some constraints that the Commission was facing, key among them being inadequate funding.
Apart from the negative attitude of public institutions towards RTI requests and the lack of offices outside Accra, Mr. Yaw Sarpong Boateng indicated that the commission was financially handicapped.
“The challenges of the commission are numerous, but the most paramount is funding. Our budget for this year has been woefully revised downward just as has been done for other public institutions. The Commission requires funds for monitoring and evaluating implementation processes across all public institutions in the country.”
Mr Boateng said without adequate funds, it would be difficult to ensure that institutions complied with the RTI law.
A consequence of this lack of resources is the inability of the commission to establish a tribunal unit to adjudicate, publicly, matters before it.
Despite the initial hurdles, the commission has embarked on a sensitisation programme to educate members of the public and the media on the content of the law, Mr. Yaw Sarpong noted.
Dr. Nafisa also indicated that to ensure a smooth RTI application process, the Ministry of Information had tasked the head of Local Government Services, the Office of the Civil Service, and the State Interest in Governance Institution to remind public entities of their responsibilities and timelines of RTI requests made to them.
In addition to this, she made it clear that public institutions were being appraised on how well they implemented the RTI law. This, she said, “will urge them to do the needful”.
However, the “biggest challenge” facing the implementation of the law, according to Mr. Yaw Sarpong, is the non-acceptance of the law by the public.
A member of RTI Commission board, Dr. David Oppong Kusi, stated that, inasmuch as most of the challenges lay with public institutions, the public must make good use of the RTI law.
“We need the general public to buy into this law. The law was not just made for practitioners. It was made for the general public. In fact, the intent behind the law is to make sure that we lift the cloud of secrecy over government issues and information so that it becomes available to the ordinary person including my 91-year-old mother in the village,” he said.
Addressing the concerns of people living with disability based on questions from the audience at the conference, the Commission said it is collaborating with the Akropong School for the blind to produce a braille version of the RTI law.
The Commission commended the Media Foundation for West Africa for actively using the law through its projects: The Fourth Estate and Fact-check Ghana.
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The writers of this article: Norah Kwami, Marian Amaria Bangura, Thelma Dede Amedeku, Edmund Kofi Boateng and Sedem Kwasigah are Fellows of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship of the MFWA.