Glass doors: Ghana moves to improve transparency in governance.
In the midst of consternation over the fluctuation of the Ghanaian Cedi and sale of a three billion euro bond last week, Ghana has made attempts to improve on transparency in governance. The Electoral Commission (EC) has announced that it will be publishing the financial accounts of political parties and on 26 March, the long-awaited Right to Information Bill (RTI) was passed in to law.
Following a first draft in 1999 and a first laying in parliament in 2010, the RTI bill was replaced with a new version in 2016 which was then re-laid in 2017.
The publication by the EC was done in a national print newspaper on 21 March and followed an order granted by Accra’s Human Rights Court in February 2018.
The assent into law of the RTI bill has been welcomed by most. However, there are already concerns over some provisions of the law that may seek to exclude some key pieces of information from being made available. The offending clause (13) reads: “information is exempt from disclosure where the disclosure will reveal (a) an opinion or advice (b) a recommendation, consultation or deliberation made to public institutions [and] is likely to undermine the deliberative process in that public institution.”
Despite attempts by opposition leaders in parliament to call for another reading, the law was passed without further amendments.A source within OccupyGhana (one of the coalition members that was pushing for the implementation) echoed these sentiments: “we have won a first victory in getting the bill passed in to law. It now remains to be seen how and when it will be implemented. We’ve waited 20 years already which should show you that we are willing to wait and fight until we get a bill that is fit for purpose.” Ghana is now set to join the other 16 African countries that have some form of Access to Information legislation.
Meanwhile, though the publishing of audited accounts was a positive step, the EC at an Interparty Advisory Committee (IPAC) meeting on 27thMarch stated that the majority of the submitted accounts would not pass international auditing standards. The EC will seek to force parties to comply via the introduction of a Constitutional Instrument that will regulate the format of submitted returns. However, an EC source told us that there is no timeline yet for this: “we want to make sure that we have clearly defined standards and definitions for the parties to adhere to within the constitutional interest so that we reduce the risk of evasion by the parties as well as reduce the potential for litigation.”
The likelihood of a swift implementation of the RTI law is low. The government timeline is the beginning of the financial year in 2020. However, there are already calls by some in the civil society space for amendments to the new law. There is also the hurdle of the cost of implementation; the parliamentary committee that was set up to look in to the feasibility of the implementation came up with a figure of GHS 750 million (approx. USD 145 million) over five years.Those calling for amendments to the new law will not be placated by its passing. There is little choice for them but to wait and see what its implementation looks like but it is also in government’s interest for the Act to be effective (especially in what will be an election year) given how much could potentially be saved by the public purse. One report suggested that as much as GHS 5.4 billion (USD 1.05 billion). The opposition will not provide any significant obstruction, given their repeated calls for the passing of the bill.
The lack of political will on behalf of the parties to increase the transparency around their finances is stark. The introduction of a constitutional instrument by the EC is a positive, proactive move. However, the fact that it must be assented to by parliament means that there may be a substantial delay in its final acceptance. It is in the interest of the major parties that the intricacies of their financing are not revealed before the December 2020 general elections. It is therefore unlikely that we will see any significant moves towards compliance before then.
One report shows that some GHS 5.4 billion (USD 1.05 billion) was saved by the Accountant General in 2016 due to correct auditing that is expected to increase with the scrutiny of RTI requests.