Bawumia takes over in fresh RTI deadline as Akufo-Addo promise fails

With the President’s failure to meet his deadline for the passage of the Right of Information Bill imminent, his Vice has taken over in providing fresh deadline.

Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia says “it looks like all things being equal, early in the next session of parliament” this bill “by the grace of God” and with “your help” will be passed.

Stripping the two lines of coded probabilities, it means the first quarter of 2019.

Before looking forward to the new date, looking backwards to the old deadline is critical to understanding the controversy over the RTI bill.

It was on March 6, 2018 at the Independence Square on Ghana’s 61st birthday.

On the day marking Ghana’s right to self-rule, President Nana Akufo-Addo promised, Ghanaians will also have the right to information.

It has been 282 days since that speech that recalled the fighting spirit of freedom fighters in the Gold Coast.

Taking a cue from this fighting spirit, civil society organisations have taken the fight on social media campaigns, distributing leaflets on the streets to raise awareness, wearing red T-shirts, rallying around parliament house and an entire media countdown to ensure the government meets its own self-imposed deadlines.

The value of this effort comes down to Parliament scrutinizing 34 out of 92 clauses at the Consideration stage.

There are 138 proposed amendments to the 57-page bill and 21 days to the end of the year.

Public advocacy has got less than half the work done.

Within 282 days since the president’s promise, Parliament has passed the Ghana Aluminum Integrated Authority Bill.

It used 170 days to pass the Bill laid on March 15, 2018. It has also passed the GETFund Amendment Bill 2018, the NHIL Amendment Bill 2018, the Luxury Vehicle Bill, the Legal Aid Commission Bill.

And much shorter time to pass several loan agreements such as Master Project Support Agreement for $2bn Ghana Sinohydro Corporation and African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

Leaders of both sides of Parliament known to disagree often, both agree that on the RTI bill, the delay was down to the reading of the government’s 2019 budget.

Parliament needed to devote time to give the government its spending power in 2019, it was explained.

But it was Majority leader Osei Kyei-Mensah Bonsu who promised within the timeframe of the President’s promise that the bill will be passed before the budget.

He would later say, Parliament would debate the bill ‘side by side’ with the Appropriation Bill, Joy News’ Evans Mensah reminded Chairperson of the Constitutional Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee Ben Adballah who made the 2018 assurance even more sure with his own commitment to help pass the bill before the year ends.

The December 2018 deadline is now officially “only tentative” date, he said on Joy FM’s Top Story Monday.

But Parliament has demonstrated “commitment”, “always been committed” and “utmost good faith” and applied the “ necessary speed and accuracy” plus ‘political resolve’ to pass the bill, Ben Abdallah Banda was joined by the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Joseph Osei Owusu in raining new phrases to an old job.
The poker in Parliament’s wheel was – the budget and the fact that at the Consideration stage “you don’t have to rush…you need to take your time”.

The First Deputy Speaker of Parliament explained further, all this agitation around the bill would have been avoided if Parliament had passed the bill in 2016.

“We had practically finished”, he recalled the dying days of the last Parliament as the NDC Majority in Parliament made a last minute push to pass the bill it had previously stalled on.

The Minority, the NPP which was soon to become the Majority after winning the December general elections resisted this last minute deal after years of pushing for the passage.

Joseph Osei Owusu now put that controversy this way; “You know we work with time and once the time elapsed we had to come and start afresh”.

Meaning the job which was almost complete now had to start again in 2018. And it did start in March 2018 when it was once again laid before Parliament.

Improving Dr. Bawumia’s “all things being equal” deadline of “early next session”, Ben Adballa winnowed this down to “within the first two weeks of next year”.

And then he added “probably”.

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