MR FIRST DEPUTY SPEAKER
Mr Speaker, withrespect, when the debate started the firsttime, you promised to give me the chanceto conclude but I have not had the chanceto conclude, so I just want to bring thatmatter --
You wouldhave had the chance if you were hereyesterday. You were not here yesterday,so you have lost that opportunity. Yes, I know, so you would have to seethe Speaker and sort out a few thingsbefore we take it tomorrow - yes, so, wewill leave it at that.
Mr Speaker, yesterday, wewere on the Right to Information Bill, 2013and the Hon Chairman of the Committeeis ready to continue. So, if we could takeitem numbered 15 on the Order Paper --Right to Information Bill, 2013 --Consideration Stage.
Mr Speaker,I am informed that, the Hon Minister forFinance is the same Minister who is in-charge of Power for the time being. He himself is not here but the HonDeputy has been with us in the House. Ido not know whether he has the capacityto respond to these questions. If he has,then, he could respond to it, theQuestions could be filed by the HonMembers, then a quick response wouldcome from them. Mr Speaker, this is because, these areconstituency specific Questions and if
Yes, HonDeputy Majority Leader, how do yourespond to that?
Mr Speaker, the under-standing is that, we should be able to gothrough the Right to Information Bill, theareas which are not in dispute, we couldhandle those ones while we await thepresence of the Hon Minister responsible. We can take those clauses that wecan handle now while we await thepresence of the Hon Attorney-Generaland Minister for Justice. Is that not it?
HonMembers, I believe that, from what youare saying, it is either the Hon Ministerfor Finance who is acting as the HonMinister for Power or the Hon DeputyMinister for Power. Neither of them is hereso we cannot handle that. It cannot be the Hon Deputy Ministerfor Finance acting for the Hon Ministerfor Power. That cannot be the case.
Mr Speaker,I did not say it is the acting Hon DeputyMinister for Power. I did not say so. I was just saying that, because he isthe Hon Deputy Minister for Finance andit is the Hon Minister Finance who isin-charge of Power, does he have thecapacity? That is why I posed thequestion to be answered. That is the issuethat I raised. If he has, maybe, he may --
The HonDeputy Minister for Finance?
Yes,deputising for his Hon Minister forFinance. Mr First Deputy Speaker No. I do notthink he has that mandate. [Laughter.] Yes, Hon Members, item numbered 15on the Order Paper -- Right to InformationBill, 2013 -- Consideration Stage. [Pause.]
BILLS -- CONSIDERATION STAGE
HonMembers, at the last Sitting we dealt withclause 19 and the issues that came upwere these two. Access to informationand information itself: Those were theissues that we debated. Hon Chairman of the Committee, didyou arrive at any kind of consensus?
Thank you, MrSpeaker. Mr Speaker, yesterday, two issuesarose --
HonMembers, can we have some order inthis House?
Mr Speaker, yesterday,two issues arose when we were lookingat clause 19. The first one was as towhether the Hon Attorney-General andMinister for Justice or the Attorney-General's Department, Hon Deputy or officials from there would be here. MrSpeaker, yesterday, we had a conferencewith the Hon Attorney-General andMinister for Justice who was out of thejurisdiction and had also accompanied HisExcellency the President outside thecountry. Mr Speaker, but the chief draftspersonfrom the Ministry is here to assist thisHouse to go through the issue. Mr Speaker, the second issue --
Mr Speaker, the secondissue which relates to whether it shouldbe access to, et cetera -- we had aconference with the Attorney-General'sDepartment and they preferred that weleave it as it is. That is the position of thesponsor of the Bill. Mr Speaker, you mayput the Question, so that maybe, at theSecond Consideration Stage, if there isany issue, then an Hon Member maybring it up for consideration.
Mr Speaker,I believe I should express appreciationto the Hon Chairman of the Committee forthe information that he has given and theattempt that he has also made to havethat meeting organised. But if theAttorney-General's Department tells theHon Chairman anything; the reasons forhaving any particular clause, the HonChairman should persuade himself that heis satisfied. He should not just ferry it to us that,this is what I was told and so that is it.The issue is whether he was persuadedby the force of the argument, but if hewas not, then why does he tell us thatwas what they told him and theirpreference was that it should remain as it is. Given what was said in the House, washe himself convinced and persuaded bythe force of the arguments that wereraised in this House -- then he shouldtry to convince them. Mr Speaker, but he goes and he bringshis bucket full of the answer provided tohim to the House. So, what are we to do?Mr Speaker, as a House, we shouldconvince ourselves but as far as I amconcerned, I am not persuaded by whathe has said at all.
HonChairman of the Committee, let us hearyou.
Mr Speaker, I was underthe impression that, since the Housedebated the issue and the issues were veryclear, I think -- Mr Speaker, the Hon Attorney-Generaland Minister for Justice was of the viewthat, the issue of Right to Information is aprovision made in the Constitution andthis Bill is detailing out the manner, formand the procedure to access theinformation. Therefore, she believes thattitle is correct and the various provisionsthat we are considering to give accessshould be approved by the House.
HonMembers, in that case, I would put theQuestion with regard to clause 19 -- Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu-- rose --
Yes, HonMinority Leader?
Mr Speaker,going by what the Hon Chairman has toldus, I am fortified by the argument that wasraised in this House that, it should ratherbe “Application to access information”.This is because, that is what he has saidhimself.
Mr Speaker, consideringthe manner and form put by the HonMinority Leader, I believe it gives thesame meaning. It would not spoil anythingand therefore, I would accede to hiscorrection. So, Mr Speaker, I beg to further amendthe headnote to read “Application toaccess information”.
I hope weare now ad idem? Mr Kobina T. Hammond -- rose --
Mr Speaker, thatwas the exact point I was going to make. Ibelieve it makes a lot of sense to redefineit.
Very well.In that case, I would put the Questionwith regard to the amendment to the headnote. Question put and amendment agreedto.
Mr Speaker, in view ofthe amendment just carried, I beg toamend subclause 1 of clause 19 to read: “An application to accessinformation held by a publicinstitution shall …” Mr Speaker, I --
I do notfollow you.
Mr Speaker, I beg tofurther amend clause 19 (1) to reflect theamendment carried in the headnote.Therefore, clause 19 (1) would read asfollows; “An application to access infor-mation held by a public institutionshall …”
Very well. Ithink it is consequential. Question put and amendment agreedto. Clause 19 as amended ordered to standpart of the Bill. Clause 20 -- Person to deal withapplication.
Mr Speaker, I beg tomove, subclause (1), line 2, delete“agency” and insert “public institution''. Mr Speaker, this is in line with theearlier amendments that we carried.
Mr Speaker, in line 1 ofsubclause 1, I beg to seek your leave toamend line 1 to read: “An application to accessinformation shall be dealt with bythe Information Officer of the publicinstitution or an officer designatedfor that purpose by the Minister.” Question put and amendment agreedto.
Mr Speaker, I beg tomove, clause 20, subclause (2), delete
Mr Speaker,if I may get clarification, before the HonChairman continues, the application toaccess information is to all publicinstitutions. That might include theJudiciary and Parliament. Why are wesaying that an officer must be designatedby the Hon minister for that purpose?
HonChairman of the Committee, do you followthe issue he is raising?
Unfortunately, no, MrSpeaker. If the Hon Minority Leader mightrepeat the question.
Mr Speaker,I was just referring to Clause 20 (1), whichis now amended to read: “An application to access informationshall be dealt with by the informationofficer of the public institution oran officer designated for thepurpose by the Minister in themanual referred to in section 3.” I am just asking whether we are goingto consign all other public institutionsincluding Parliament and Judiciary to thedesignated officer responsible to releasethe information and another to theexecutive which would be sanctioned bythe Minister. Is that the meaning of this?Otherwise, I thought that we should havea better construction for that clause.
Yes, Mr Speaker, the ideais that, every public institution must havea designated officer called the“Information Officer” who would beresponsible for working on applicationsto access information from that publicinstitution. Earlier, we came across anissue where manuals are to be prepared,and in the manual, the Minister might nameor assign reasons for giving particularofficers to work on access to information. Mr Speaker, that is why we are --
Very well. But the issue raised by the HonMinority Leader brings to mind anotherissue. Are we only talking of access toinformation by Ministries and Depart-ments? I asked this because, we haveused the expression “public institutions”.Apparently, we are looking at thepossibility of saying ‘information from theJudicial Service and information fromParliament'. So, why do we necessarily have to talkabout the ‘minister responsible' and soon? How do we deal with the situationwhen it comes to other institutions whichare not Ministries or Departments? Doyou follow the point I am raising? Yes, Hon W. O. Boafo?
Mr Speaker, we couldrevisit clause 3 and, maybe, have asolution from there.
I mightprobably have to revisit clause 3. But letus deal with clause 20 as we are doingnow.
Mr Speaker, to solve theproblem raised by the Hon MinorityLeader on clause 20, in my opinion, wecould stop at “information officer', andprovide the definition of “informationofficer” under the interpretation column.This is because, if one continues to readthe Bill and the proposed amendment, onewould come across proposals which seekto insert designated officer after areference to ‘information officer'repeatedly. So, we could instead of referring to“information officer”each time and afterthat we insert “or a designated officer”,we only provide that the applicationwould be dealt with by the informationofficer. Then, in the interpretation column,we should define who is an informationofficer to include any officer designatedunder the manual.
Yes, I thinkso. Yes, Hon Chairman of the Committee?
Mr Speaker, we havetaken the “Minister” out of clause 20. So,the “Minister” is no more an officer to dodesignation of assignments. Mr Speaker, I would go by thatamendment and further delete “minister”from that subclause. So, if the Hon W. O.Boafo might come out with hisamendment?
Very well.Hon Boafo?
Mr Speaker, I beg tomove, that it should read: “An application to accessinformation shall be dealt with bythe information officer of the publicinstitution.” This is because I have already madethe suggestion that we should attempt adefinition of “an information officer” inthe definition column to include “adesignated officer”; an officer designatedfor that purpose under clause 3.
So, fromwhat you are saying, we would end at theexpression “public institution”. Is thatalright? And the rest should go? So, thatat the definition column, we could definean “information officer” to include “aperson designated by the informationofficer to carry other operations”. Am I on the same page with you?
Yes, Mr Speaker. This would forestall or avoid arepetition of “designated officer” eachtime we refer to “an information officer”.
HonChairman of the Committee, are you withhim so that we put the Question?
Yes, Mr Speaker.
Very well.Hon Members, I would then put theQuestion.
Mr Speaker,much as I agree with the proposal by theHon Member for Akwapim South --[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker, I am theMember for Akwapim North. [Laughter.]
Mr Speaker,I am sorry: the Member for AkwapimNorth. Mr Speaker, I also believe that wemay have to go back to clause 3.
Yes, wewould be going back to clause 3 but let usfinish with this one so that we can takecare of clause 3. This is because we havea problem with clause 3 as it stands.
Precisely, MrSpeaker. Question put and amendment agreedto.
We havecome to subclause (2). You are asking fora deletion and I asked you for the reason.
Mr Speaker, we believethat the issue there is an administrativeduty and we do not necessarily have tocater for it in the law. The informationofficer of the public institution may in linewith the amendment you have made todefine it, include whoever he may havedelegated to perform the duty. Mr Speaker, that is why we think thatclauses 2 and 3 must be deleted.
Very well. Question put and amendment agreedto.
HonMembers, we are still at clause 20.
Mr Speaker, I beg tomove, clause 20, subclause (3), delete
Mr Speaker, Ido not think this is a simple routineadministrative matter. I think thisanticipates the circumstances of many ofour people who are not literates and cantherefore not present a formal request forinformation. My understanding is that, this imposesan obligation on public officers wherepeople are unable to present a formalapplication but present an oral applicationfor that officer to reduce it to a writtenformal application or request and processit. Mr Speaker, taking out this guarantee,where else in the clause do we have aguarantee that protects uneducatedpersons who would request forinformation but which is not formallywritten? If there is any alternativearrangement that provides that protection,then we can take this out. Otherwise, myunderstanding of this clause is that it is aguarantee for those who are not literatesand can therefore reduce their applicationto formal writing.
Mr Speaker, the answerto his question can be found in clause 19,subclauses (2) and (3).
Mr Speaker,the Hon Member is bringing us back to 19(2). He thought we are still dealing withclause 19 (2). We are at clause 20 (2).
HonMember, I hope you have been given theanswer to your question.
So, we moveon. Before I put the Question, my worry isthat, I think it attempts to solve somehiccups. For example, if you are delegatedby the superior officer to carry out afunction, does it mean that the superiorofficer loses his or her mandate to dealwith the matter? I thought this --
No! Mr Speaker, theofficer at no time loses his mandate. Thereis a provision in the Bill that places theultimate responsibility on the officer sothat if he delegates authority or power toan officer to work, he ultimately bears theresponsibility for the action or inaction ofthe delegated officer.
Well, if wehave such a provision, can you refer meto that provision? [Pause.]
Mr Speaker, if I cannotreadily find it here, I know that weconsidered something of that nature in theamendment.
Very well. I would put the Question, but whenyou come up with that one and it doesnot satisfy the issue, we probably wouldhave to revisit it.
Mr Speaker, I would wantto understand why if the law makesprovision for an administrative arrange-ment, they would want to take out thatarrangement? The issue of clause 20 (2) and (3) areclear administrative arrangements. If thereare administrative arrangements spelt outin the law, what would be the problem? Ihave to be made to understand the policyreason why we need to take it out. This is because, looking in thememorandum to the Bill, it is clear thatthere is an intention to have a clearadministrative arrangement for themanagement of who should exercise thefunction. Mr Speaker, the Chairman wants to takeout that administrative arrangement asspelt out in the law. I think he has toexplain the policy rationale. What nowinforms the decision of the Chairman thatwe should take out the administrativearrangement for determining whoexercises the function of accessing theinformation or making the informationavailable to the applicant?
Mr Speaker, I had earlierexplained that the cause of the amendmentwe carried, what we are going to giveinterpretation of “information officer” to,include any other officer that may haveworked under his authority or guidance.Therefore, we think that there is in place,an administrative arrangement within thepublic agency itself. That is why we think that there arearrangements already in existence inpublic institutions for delegation to becarried. So, if we do not put it in black andwhite here, we believe that the commonlaw position would also take care of it.
Mr Speaker,first, to support my Chairman, thedefinition of “information officer' includesany designated officer. So, I think that onecovers it. But there was fear that thepractical challenges of one officerstanding in for another if he has to leavefor one hour requiring writing specifiedinstructions may give practical difficulties. So, if we allowed the interpretationgiven us in the Bill to cover personsworking with or within the information office, it would make it easier forinformation to be accessed. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker,I am not too sure that I can accept theproposal from the Chairman on this assupported by the Hon Member forBekwai. Mr Speaker, the reason is simple. Weare going to great lengths to providesecurity to certain pieces of information.Now, somebody would just say, “I woulddo this on my behalf”, and the person doesit, or perhaps, he might not even havehad any instructions. He goes to do it,releases the information whether in partor in whole and when an issue crops up,he would say he was ordered by hissuperior officer to do this or that. Thesuperior officer then says he never didthat. It is his word against the word of thesubordinate officer. Mr Speaker, that is unacceptable, andrelating to classified information,confidential information, informationrelating to national security, it cannot bethe word of a person against another'sword. It should be in writing, so that wedo not have any controversies ensuingthereafter. This is why I think we should maintainwhat is in the Bill.
Mr Speaker, to emphasisethe argument by the Hon Minority Leader,in official settings, sometimes we find verybusy bodies who just go to the registryto fetch any kind of information andgive the information out without realauthorisation to do so, so I see amechanism that streamlines within anagency who can release information, and under what authority the person canexercise that function of releasing theinformation, so that we can hold peopleaccountable and responsible. That gives the officers that control,that power; either the information officeror the person designated by the Ministerwould be held accountable for anyprovision of such information --
And thedesignation should be in writing.
And the designationshould be in writing. So we need to havewithin the agencies streamlining andproper mechanisms for holding peopleaccountable, and this is what this seeksto do. Hence I would like to support theargument that for accountabilitypurposes, let us insist on the specificityof a writing to authorize a person to releaseinformation, so that if a person is notauthorised by the designated officer orthe Minister or the information officer inwriting, the person cannot dare releaseinformation without authorisation.
I think the argument is inplace, because we are dealing with vitalinformation. Anybody can releaseinformation, and if the person isquestioned, he would not have anythingto say apart from saying that, “this is theauthority I had with this document whichis given to me by this officer”. Once it is aclassified or vital information which wouldhave to come out, somebody mustauthorise its coming out. So, I support the argument. It shouldbe in writing. If not, people who are notauthorised to do so would start releasinginformation.
Thank you,Mr Speaker. I support the amendment. No! I do notsupport what they are saying, because --
You do notsupport what who is saying?
The Hon Chairman'samendment, rather the amendment that isbeing proposed by the Hon MinorityLeader and the Hon Minister forEnvironment, Science, Technology andInnovation. I would like to find out from the HonChairman the actual reason why he wouldwant to delete this. Why does he not wantit to be there? People should beresponsible for whatever they bring out,otherwise, people would hide behindand give information and later they wouldrun away from it, especially when the pressstarts talking about it. They would runaway from it and there is nothing to showthat this person gave it out.
Mr Speaker, I have beentrying to support the Hon Chairman. I donot know whether he has shifted hisposition, but I am inclined to support hisearlier proposal to delete subclauses (2)and (3). In every institution we have a line ofauthority and what subclauses (2) and (3)purport to do is to empower theInformation Officer at times to evenbypass the line of authority, and delegatehis authority to somebody who is not theright person to take over from theInformation Officer. I thought that could have been therationale to maintain the internalgovernance system.
Mr Speaker, I havelistened to the various issues raised. Someof them are really persuasive, but I amlooking at our definition of “information officer”, and with your leave, Mr Speaker,I beg to read: “'information officer' includes theinformation officer of the agency towhom an application is made and adesignated officer.” I believe that no person would bedesignated to perform a function withoutthat authority being transferred to him inwriting.
What aboutlooking at it ex abudanti cautela, just tobe sure. If it is there, it does not spoilanything. We would like it to be in writing,just for the avoidance of doubt.
Mr Speaker,thank you for the opportunity. Let us look at it this way. In a situationwhere the designated officer or theinformation officer would not beavailable and unfortunately, has notgiven the authority in writing as indicatedby the law, does it mean the informationwould not be given out?
Mr Speaker, in a casewhere administratively an officer isunavailable, I think that the dangerinvolved in putting out information thatought not to have gone out overrides theinterest in expeditiously having access tothat information, but the legislation makesprovision for the Minister to designateany other person. There are twocategories of people here. There is theinformation officer of the agency or aperson designated by the Minister. So, in the same agency, the Ministercould designate another person if theMinister feels that the information is soimportant that he does not want the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry but hewould rather want the Chief Director ofthe Ministry to be the person to determinewhether or not information of thatcategory should go out. So, the Minister could designateanybody within the Ministry. So, I do notthink that the issue of an InformationOfficer being absent could be so seriousthat we need to allow any other personwithin the hierarchy to be able to do itonce the information officer is not in hisoffice. The Minister could designateanother person. The safeguard mechanism here is that,if the Minister exercises good judgmentand says “x” should be the person and if“x” is absent, it does not mean thatanybody in his department who is actingthat day can just provide the information. If somebody else in his department hasto release information, it is required that‘x' should have formally written to saythat “Mr ‘A' in my agency would providethe information in my absence”. These areall safeguard mechanisms and as MrSpeaker has rightly hinted, there isnothing wrong with leaving thearrangement as it is now. It is a safeguardmechanism.
Mr Speaker, having regardto the explanation that he has given, theclause would have to be deleted. This isbecause the interpretation has taken careof an “information officer” or a“designated officer”. In the situationwhere the information officer is notthere, the Minister will designate. So,where lies the situation where there willbe the need to delegate?
Yes, HonW. O. Boafo? I will come back to you, HonMinister.
Mr Speaker, I think we nowhave two categories of designatedofficers. My initial understanding of a“designated officer” is an officer withinan institution where there is noinformation officer. So, in that institution,somebody who occupies a similarposition can be designated to handle thatportfolio. But it appears the Hon Ministeris adding another dimension to thedesignated officer, that apart from theinformation officer, we can also have adesignated officer within the Ministry. My initial understanding was that, a“designated officer” means an officerwithin a public institution who is notnecessarily referred to as an informationofficer. So, we must get that clear from thesponsors of the Bill what they envisionas a designated officer.
Mr Speaker, that isbecause I do not see anywhere in the Bill,a provision that first and foremost,exclusively gives power to an informationofficer. The first provision I encounter inrelation to the exercise of that function isin the same clause 20. It is clear. It doesnot say “in the absence of an informationofficer, any person designated by theMinister”. It says “the information officeror a person designated by the Minister”. So, the information officer could bein the Ministry and the Minister woulddesignate the Chief Director as the personwho will determine whether a particularpiece of information should be disclosedto the public or not. That is myunderstanding of clause 20.
“designated officer” means anofficer so designated for thepurposes of this Act”. It does not say an officer who has beendesignated in the absence of aninformation officer. It does not say so.
Yes, whileat it, the issue raised which raises someconcern is whether because of theurgency of the request for the information,this portion of it which deals with thedesignation being in writing, could alsonot possibly give us problems in theprocess. That is the question I would wantus to address.
Mr Speaker,I think we have told ourselves that wewould have to go back to clause 3,because that is what provides thecharacterisation of who an informationofficer or a designated officer is.
“The manual shall contain the name,telephone number, fax, e-mail andpostal address of the informationofficer of the agency….” Or if you like the public institution. “…or a designated officer of theagency to whom a request foraccess may be made.” That is the characterisation of theinformation officer. It is not anybody else.And while you may have designated thePublic Affairs Director to be theinformation officer, does it mean that if he is on leave, nobody can accessinformation that is being sought? Theremust be somebody, and if the Public AffairsDirector is not in place as theinformation officer, somebody will bedesignated as the officer responsible. Thatis it. It is not anything oral. This is because the information maybe very critical. It cannot be that somebodymakes a disclosure and the following day,it triggers something very serious for thenation and the person then comes to saythat he had an oral communication fromanother person who said he should dothe disclosure. The person then comesto say that he never told him. Then wehave this contention between two people.It should be on paper. I cannot phantom a situation wheremaybe, somebody in the office in chargeof releasing information and the personhas to respond to nature's call, then hecannot hold for about five minutes beforehe returns to do it. That is something else;that is overstretching the argument. I think that it should be captured inwriting. This is because the applicationitself is stressed in the Bill. It has to bemade in written form. Anything connectedshould be so characterised so that we donot have anybody trying to tinker withrelevant information, which would bedangerous not only to individuals,bodies, corporations and so on, but evento the State. So, we should be careful ofwhat we are doing.
Mr Speaker,I think it is very critical that whoever isresponsible for giving out the informationis seen as responsible for whatever goeswrong in the future. Probably, some wronginformation is given or the exactinformation that is being sought for hasnot been released. The reason for which there must be aserious commitment to who is responsiblefor giving out the information. But if it isjust an individual asking somebody to acton his behalf without any proof that willtie that individual to a possible challengein the future, I think that would createserious problems. This is why I thinkthat it being in writing is very important inthe absence of the information officer. As the Hon Minority Leader aptlypointed out, if somebody is vacating hisposition or he is not in a position at apoint in time, definitely some arrange-ments are made for the vacuum to beoccupied. So, I believe that if forinstance the information officer is on leave,whoever is taking over from thatindividual, it is not verbally communicated,it is put in writing. The reason for which I strongly believethat clause 20 (3) (a) is very relevant andmust be maintained.
Thank you verymuch, Mr Speaker. I think that we are not talking at crosspurposes at all, but I would want us tolook at practices and procedures in thePublic Service. As the Hon MinorityLeader said, if a Public Relations Officeris the designated officer within the agencywho is supposed to give out theinformation, if he is going on leave, bestpractices would show that the persontaking over would officially becommunicated to by the agency. Normally, it is seen that Mr “A” isproceeding on leave, in his absence, Mr‘B' will act. I believe that should suffice.If we wait for a Minister to formally write,I think that there will be a time lapse, because the Minister may be out of thejurisdiction or may be doing other things.Some of these things are done at the levelof the Chief Director and the Head ofDepartment. That is why we are sayingthat do not officially legislate by sayingthat the Minister shall do so in writing. I think that the best practice orprocedure that goes on in the PublicService or in the agency should take careof this. This is because the essence of thewhole Bill is to expedite the giving ofinformation in addition to the fact thatinformation is made easily accessible tothe citizenry. So, I believe that we do not need toput it there in black and white that theHon Minister, “shall in writing”, but Ibelieve that the procedure in the publicservice takes care of it in its own way.
Very well,let me ask you a question. Assuming the information officerproceeding on leave and it is an urgentsituation where he has proceeded onleave without going through thenecessary processes for his health orsome other reasons, and therefore, thenecessary paper work to ensure thateverything in writing is not there at thattime, how do we handle that kind ofsituation?
Mr Speaker, what I am sayingbasically is that, when that kind ofsituation arises and it is noticed, whoeveris rectifying that may not necessarily bean Hon Minister. So, the Chief Directorcan say that since that has happened, inthe absence of that person, Mr so or soshould act.
Mr Speaker, we shouldnot lose sight of the fact that there is anarrangement that is being put in place. Weshould remember that there is a manual tobe published and in that manual, the HonMinister is required to make provision foran information officer to be the person,or somebody, also designated. So, there is an internal arrangement toenable the agency itself to foresee that itis not all the time that one would have theinformation officer in his office. That iswhy we can have in the manual, adesignation of other staff in the agency. We can have the information officer'sname there, but in his absence under anyof the circumstances that we arediscussing, who else? That person shouldbe known in advance. That is why clause20 makes provision for the publication ofthat designated officer in the manual andnot when there is an emergency and oneperson is not there. No! While publishing the manual, onemust state who and who would be therecipients of applications for access toinformation, so that we do not have thesesituations where somebody is not in theoffice, so we do not know what to do?No! Mr Speaker, the arrangement is that inpublishing the manual, we state that theinformation officer is Mr “X”, his addressand everything, as provided for in clause3(d). Even while he is there, there shouldbe an alternative person also designated;the Chief Director and anotheralternative person also designated; the Deputy Director for Finance andAdministration. We can have three peopleor five people, all published in the manual,as people that anybody in the public canapply to for the information. It is not in the hierarchy; no! And it isnot that in the absence of. It is “A” or “B”or “C”, as captured in the manual. So, theidea is that, if those people are going tovacate post and they would also want tofurther designate somebody, then theymust also do that in writing, so that, thatperson's mandate is clearly indicated.That is a very simple administrativearrangement.
Mr Speaker, as muchas I agree with the Hon Minister, I stillhave a little difficulty with his explanation.This is because if we read subclause (3)(d), it does not talk of three or four officers.It only talks about the information officerof the agency or a designated officer ofthe agency to whom a request for accessmay be made. My understanding by this, is that inthe absence of the information officer, thenthe Hon Minister has the mandate todesignate some other officer to dischargethe functions of the information officer. The reason for which, I think that, asat when it becomes necessary for the HonMinister to delegate some other personin place of the information officer, who isunavailable, it must be in writing, suchthat the individual would know that wheninformation is being sought by anybodyin the public, he must be able to providethat information. I do not want to believe that it isindicating in the manual that the HonMinister is going to indicate, theinformation officer and some three otherofficers to whom information may besought in the absence of the informationofficer.
Mr Speaker, may I seekyour permission to flag this clause forfurther consultation?
I think so. So, Hon Members, I direct that thisparticular provision, that is clause 20 sub-clauses (2) and (3), be flagged, so that wecan move on. Hon Members, clause 21.
Mr Speaker, I thought thatyou had put subclause (2) to a vote.[Laughter] -- [Pause.]
Yes, thathas been deleted by the Question put. So,we are talking about subclause (3), that isbeing put on hold. But when we come backto it, if it is possible to revisit subclause(2), we would do that.
Mr Speaker,that was at the heart of the issue that Iraised. I said that we should look at theissue considered in subclause (2), that itought not to have been deleted, then Icame to subclause (3), to say that for thesame purpose, we should not delete it.This is because the two go together. Oncewe delete subclause (2), then of course,we would be forced to delete subclause(3). But we need to still hold them. Mr Speaker, I think that we do not needto delete it, but with the Chairman, I amnot too sure that he is speaking forhimself. If he is speaking for theCommittee, then I believe that theCommittee by now, ought to concede thatthe proposal to the House is not feasibleand so we should allow it to stay, withrespect, even if it is for the avoidance ofdoubt, so that we can carry on. Otherwise,Mr Speaker, we shall have a list of vendors. One person would tell you that theinformation came from the Chairman to me,and because he was also in a hurry to gosomewhere, he said a second personshould hold it. Then it goes to a fourthperson and then a sixth person, orallydelivered, and nobody then would holdhimself accountable, or liable, if anythinggoes wrong. So, Mr Speaker, it is important that weallow those to stay. But it is up to theChairman and the Committee, but I think,upon reflection, they should allow bothsubclauses (2) and (3) to stay.
HonMembers, I think that what we would do-- if we have already taken the vote onsubclause (2), then let us allow it to remainlike that. We would defer considerationof subclause (3) and when we considersubclause (3) and it becomes necessaryto re-visit subclause (2), I believe we cando it.
Mr Speaker,as I sat there, I saw the Chairman risespiritedly this time, to throw in the towel.I could read from his body chemistry.
It appearsyou can read the mind. [Laughter.] Hon Members, we move on to clause21.
Mr Speaker, with yourpermission, I beg to move, clause 21,delete “agency” and “public institution”wherever it appears in the clause. Mr Speaker, that is a consequentialamendment.
Whereverit appears in the clause?
Rightly so, Mr Speaker. Question put and amendment agreedto.
Mr Speaker, with yourpermission, I beg to move, clause 21,subclause (1), closing phrase afterparagraph (b), line 1, after “officer” insert“or the designated officer”.
“is in the custody of the publicinstitution but it is more closelyrelated to the functions of anotherpublic institution.”
Mr Speaker,where he is referring to rather relates tothe concluding part of both paragraphs(a) and (b) after “officer” because “theinformation officer” is in line 1 of theconcluding part. I thought that is wherewe are referring to. The amendment you are proposing tous -- clause 21 (1), after paragraph (b),line 1, after “officer” insert “or thedesignated officer” so, it is there: “The information officer or thedesignated officer to whom theapplication is made shall within 10working days on receipt of theapplication transfer the applicationto the other public institution andgive written notice of the transferto the applicant”. That is where we should draw attentionto but you are reading another place.
Mr Speaker, forgive me, Iwas lost. Let me retrace my footsteps to-- subclause (1), closing phrase afterparagraph (b), line 1, after “officer” insert“the designated officer”.
“The information officer or thedesignated officer to whom theapplication is made shall within 10working days …” Question put and amendment agreedto.
Mr Speaker, with yourpermission, I beg to move, clause 21 --subclause (2), delete and insert thefollowing: “Where an application to accessinformation is made and the publicinstitution to which the applicationis made does not have theinformation in its custody, theinformation officer shall, within aperiod of not more than ten workingdays: (a) make the necessary enquiry toestablish whether any otherpublic institution has theinformation: (b) transfer the application to thatother public institution if thatpublic institution has theinformation; and (c) notify the applicant accordingly.” Mr Speaker, it is a rearrangement of theoriginal subclause (2) to make thisarrangement clearer.
Let me askyou one question. The citizen requestingfor the information I believe, must be upand doing and know where to go to forthe information. If you go to the wrongplace then you are burdening thatinstitution to go and fish around and todo this and that. Is that fair?
Mr Speaker, it wascontemplated that information which anapplicant may have applied for may notwholly be available in one institution andthere may be the need--since there are time frames, there is the need to informthe applicant that I have this section ofthe information in my custody and that Ido not have the other part of theinformation. I would refer your applicationto another institution. In the meantime, you are however,required to provide that aspect of theinformation which is in your institution'scustody so that we do not have a situationwhere an institution would, simplicita, sayit does not have all the information andtherefore , I would not even release thepart that they have.
Is it possiblealso to say that the little that I have, Iwould give to you?
Mr Speaker, I am getting alittle baffled why the other person has tobe burdened to know or even know thatanother person has it. The person who islooking for the information should be clearwhere the information is available. You come to me and I tell you this iswhat I have, full stop. But to find -- outhow would I know that for example, theHon Minority Leader has it, I do not knowwhat he has there. It should not be aburden on the person, but he shouldjust provide what is available and saythis is what he has-- I do not have theother one. Some Hon Members -- rose --
HonMembers, we would go one after the other.After the Hon Deputy Majority Leader,we would come to Hon Quashigah, theHon Minister and then the Chairman --Sorry, I did not see you. After theChairman, you can come up.
Mr Speaker, let us advertour minds to the fact that we would bedealing with people of differentbackgrounds. You have an applicant froma certain environment who has applied tous in Parliament. He comes all the way fromAve Avenor to get that information andhe is told that Parliament does not havethat information. He or she goes back with that problem,instead of the Clerk to Parliamentinforming him that if he goes to the GhanaNews Agency (GNA), he would get thatinformation. I have contacted GNA; theyhave -- This is because at the level ofParliament and GNA, they have thatrapport rather than sending the personback, and he has to start all over seekingthat information. The provision that the publicinstitution informs the applicant or assiststhe applicant to access that informationis in place. For instance, a Question isasked in this House of the Hon Ministerfor Roads and Highways. The Hon Minister comes to say that,that Question is not meant for him. I donot have that information -- simpliciterrather than from Minister to Minister tosay that, that information is with theMinistry of Information, so, the HonMinister for Information is ready to giveyou that information. That is the purpose of this provision.That we should not send the applicantaway but assist the applicant to be ableto access that information. That is what,in my opinion, would make it easier forpeople coming from certain environmentand background, who may not beendowed as we are in this urban area. So,this provision, Mr Speaker, is good andwe should maintain it.
Mr Speaker, mythinking rhymes largely with that of theHon Deputy Majority Leader. Why do wecall the person designated “informationofficer”? It therefore, means that individual hassome professionalism in that area infishing out for information and all, so thatif to the extent that some individual whoprobably may not know how to evenaccess information effectively comes toyou requesting for some information andyou have access to a portion of it but youcannot get the entire information theindividual needs. We are talking of right to information.It is incumbent on that informationofficer, to as much as possible, assistthat ordinary person who may not havethe skills that he has to fish out informationto give him assistance. It is in that direction that I believe theamendment being proposed is valid andmust stay. This is because if you say, I donot have that information, what I have iswhat I can give you, you leave theindividual, the ordinary Ghanaian, whoprobably might have travelled from Bawkuor Keta to Accra and needed thatinformation urgently in order to be able toaddress some serious or grievous matterthat relates to him or her. I believe probably, it is in that thinkingthat the Committee actually included thisproposal. Mr Speaker, the only challenge I haveis the ten working days that have beenstated. We may all not need informationat the same time, others may needinformation for urgent issues. If we putthe blanket timeline of ten working days,it may even be injurious to some otherpersons who are looking for informationto which they have a right. I would imagine that, we should beable to make some distinction betweenurgent information and the informationthat necessarily may not be urgent. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Yes, HonMinister? After the Hon Minister, HonGifty Eugenia Kusi and then the HonChairman. You would have the last bite.
Mr Speaker, I think this isa provision that inasmuch as it imposessome burden on public agencies orinformation officers or designatedofficers, it is also a very desirablearrangement. First, because it is true thatthe person seeking information must makethe effort. But not all our people knowwhich agency is keeping whichinformation. All they know is that, theyneed a particular type of information. So, to pin down to specialising onknowledge of which agency has whichinformation, in my opinion, is quiteburdensome to the ordinary person. Butrather, we can impose that burden on aninformation officer, because like the HonMember indicated, they are professionals,and they should know which agency iskeeping which information and therefore,they can transfer the request to thatagency. It is not to say that they must solicitthe information from that Agency andgive to the individual. It is saying thatthey should transfer the request to theappropriate agency. Also, because of decentralisation,there are many agencies that do not haveoffices in the districts. And so, to requirethat the individual must go to the specificagency, can be burdensome. A person forinstance is in Zebilla in the Upper EastRegion --
Yes, is it apoint of order?
Yes, MrSpeaker. Mr Speaker, earlier, the HonMinister for Finance was required toanswer some Questions. The HonMinister is here and I see he is junketingfrom one end of the House to the other. Iguess very soon he would be spiritingaway from the Chamber. We need to ask him whether he is goingto -- [Interruption.] Mr Speaker, this is because we maysoon lose him, looking at hiscountenance.
HonMember, we varied --
Mr Speaker,because he is here, we want to knowwhether he is minded to answer theQuestions, not now but anytime soon.And if he is not minded to answer theQuestions, then we would assureourselves who to hold responsible forthose Questions. That is all that I amcraving for. -- [Laughter.]
Very well. Fortunately, we have the Hon Ministerhere. Hon Minister, it has to do with someQuestions pertaining to power and we arereliably informed that you are the ActingMinister for Power and therefore, we areminded to find out from you whether youwould be in a position to answer thoseQuestions. If not, then we know what todo.
Mr Speaker, the information given to theHouse is substantially true. I was to actually travel with the President, but Iwas given another assignment, so, theHon Deputy Minister, who has beenresponding, I believe, very well to theHouse, had to take my place. Mr Speaker, regarding the Questions,we would definitely consult withLeadership and at the appropriate time, Ibelieve, as it is the tradition, we would behere to answer Questions which theHouse puts before the Ministry.
So, we takeit that the Hon Deputy Minister for Powerwould be in a position to respond to theQuestions?
Mr Speaker, I did not hearthe question.
You did nothear me? My question was, from whatyou have said, what I take out of it isthat, the Hon Deputy Minister for Poweris in a position to respond to thosequestions.
Mr Speaker, rightly so inmany cases. This is because thedesignation is a Supervising Minister , butif it is the wish of the House, I woulddefinitely support him accordingly and Iwould come to the House if the House sorequires. I have been travelling so, I am not in aposition -- In fact, I just came back, I amnot actually in a position to answer theQuestion at stake at the moment. I wouldhave to get some briefing before I am ableto do that. I believe that the Hon Deputy Minister,who had to travel instead, would havebeen in a position --
HonMinister, if you can authorise the HonDeputy Minister to answer the Questions,I think we would be all right.
Mr Speaker, I take yourcue. Thank you. very much.
Mr Speaker, the practicethis House is known. Questions are askedof Ministers and in the absence ofMinisters, their Deputies come with theleave of this House to answer theQuestions on behalf of their Ministers. If you are asking for an authorisationin advance, which is what I see the HonMinority Leader asking for in thisinstance, that would be a new practice sothat I can provide today, an authorisationthat Mr Speaker, in future, anytime aQuestion is asked of the Minister forEnvironment, Science, Technology andInnovation, any of my Deputies can comeand answer the Question. Mr Speaker, the practice is that, youask the Hon Minister and on a case bycase basis, in the absence of the HonMinister, if a Deputy Minister comes here,the Leader of Government Business seeksyour permission for that person to answerQuestions. It is as simple as that.
But this oneis a bit peculiar. This is because we do nothave a substantive Minister for Power andthe Hon Minister for Finance is acting asMinister for Power. He has his ownschedule, but he is also acting. So, we justwant to have the air cleared so that, if theHon Deputy Minister comes, the issuewould not become another issue fordebate, for example.
Mr Speaker,you see, that is the danger of having aMinister who is not in the Chamber whenwe are discussing an issue, enters theHouse and he wants to intervene. MrSpeaker, that is the affliction of the HonMinister. Earlier, when we were dealing withclause 20 of the Bill, he was taking us backto clause 19. When we have resolved thematter and we have had to stand this onedown because ostensibly, the HonMinister for Finance was not in theChamber at the time and now he is here,the Question was not filed for the DeputyMinister but for the Hon Minister andwe had to stand it down because he wasnot here, knowing his own very busyschedules, he has now appeared. So, we want something substantivefrom him and then we carry on. Mr Speaker, that is the innocuousissue that I raised. And because he wasnot here with us and he wants to findrelevance in the issue, he wants to takeus back. I heard the Hon Member for WaWest advising him not to intervene andhe would not listen.
HonMembers, we bring this chapter to a close.Once the Hon Acting Minister has givenus the way forward, we would go by that. Mr Ayariga -- rose--
Yes, whatdo you want to say?
Mr Speaker, we just had adebate in this Chamber about givingauthorisation in writing, even forproviding information in agencies. Weare talking about the Business ofParliament and our Standing Orders arevery clear that Questions are asked ofMinisters. Now, an Hon Minister has comeand you are asking him to provideauthorisation so that in future, a Deputycould come at any time and answer theQuestions.
That is notthe authorisation we are asking for. Weare talking about this particular set ofQuestions, whether he would feel up to it,authorising his Deputy to come andanswer them. That is all. It is not like weare providing a blanket kind of situation.
Mr Speaker, the HonMinority Leader has his motives forbringing the matter up during theConsideration Stage of a Bill. We all knowthat, on the day set for Questions to beanswered, if the Deputy Minister is hereand the Leader of Government Businessasks permission for him to answer, youwould take the decision at that time, butwhen we are at the Consideration Stageand you bring up the matter when youshould not bring it up --
HonMembers, as I indicated earlier, thechapter is closed. Let us move on to theConsideration Stage. It was just to findout from the Hon Minister.
Mr Speaker,just to observe that you thought theintervention that I made was going to lastfor a brief while, which is why the positionof the Mace was not altered. Otherwise, Iknow that the Hon Ayariga would comeback and try to find fault, even with theChair. [Laughter.] So, I appreciate the issue that you haveraised and I guess we can go on. Beforethe lid is placed on the issue, the Questionsstill have relevance insofar as they appearon today's Order Paper. I know the Hon Minister, as he hasrightly told us, is not properly constitutedto answer the Questions today. So, hewould do what is expected of him and thatis all the information he sought to provideus. Nobody is talking about giving anyauthorisation in writing or orally. MrSpeaker, we are in your hands and not thatof Hon Ayariga.
That is themore reason I indicated that the chapterhas been closed. We continue with the Consideration ofthis Bill. It is the turn of Hon Gifty Kusi tomake a presentation. But just a word ofcaution, looking at the state of affairs, Idirect that if it happens that we proceedbeyond the stipulated time as providedby the rules, that we be covered.
Mr Speaker, unfortunately,we have not made provision for extendedSitting. I just want to bring it to yourattention.
No! We areall aware of it. But let us conclude thisportion of it, just in case it takes us beyondthe stipulated time by the rules. I amdirecting that we Sit beyond the stipulatedtime. Yes, Hon Gifty Kusi?
Mr Speaker, theamendment being proposed, subclause(a). It says the information officer should: “make the necessary enquiry toestablish whether any other publicinstitution has the information…” We are treating the information officerhere as “Mr Knowall”, from archaeologyto zoology. Sometimes, the informationofficer might not even know. You bring aQuestion here and another Minister comesand says that it is not within his Ministry-- Period -- He does not do anything foryou. That is what has been happeninghere. So, if you want the informationofficer to use 10 days to look for theinformation, with the excuse that theperson is coming from wherever -- If you are looking for something, justgo where the information you are lookingfor is. If you come, I would give youwhatever I have. Why should it take 10
Very well. Now, we can hear from the HonChairman. But it looks like one of themembers of the Committee wants to makea comment.
Mr Speaker, thank you forthe opportunity. He who wants the information mustattempt to look for it and in doing so, mustdo it at the right source. We should try asmuch as possible in the law, to avoid asituation where an institution would beoverburdened. Everybody would taketheir application to that particularinstitution and it would therefore, beincumbent on the information officer togo round looking for that particularinformation. So, Mr Speaker, in order not to burden-- The words used here are “shall, within a period of not more than ten workingdays”. Which means that it is mandatoryon the part of the information officer togo round looking for where he could getthat particular information for theapplicant, instead of the applicantassuming the burden of going round toget the information. We should take asecond look at the proposal.
Could wehear from the Chairman?
Mr Speaker, thisprovision is in the supreme interest ofthe applicant. Knowing our environmentvery well and how bureaucratic tendenciestend to delay everything, the clause isintended to protect the applicant in thesense that when he submits anapplication, he would not be denied theaccess, simply on grounds that they donot have it. So, it is intended for the informationofficer, when the application issubmitted, to make enquiries, find outwhere the information is being held,transfer the application to that institutionand inform the applicant. Mr Speaker, the other reason is that, itis intended that when an application issubmitted, time begins to run. This is so,so that you do not submit an applicationand your application would take 90 daysto be looked at, no! So, if you do nothave the information and do not knowwhere you can get it, in other subsequentprovisions, there are provisions on whatto do. But where you think that you can assistthe person who had come from Dzelukopeto access the information, you assist theperson and then within 15 days, theapplication may be transferred. I might concede to change “shall” to“may” but I believe that the intention ofthe clause is to assist the applicant, sothat we may not put the applicant througha lot of tossing here and there and “goand come, we do not have it” . That isthe idea. Baba Jamal M. Ahmed: Mr Speaker, ifsomebody wants information, he mustknow where to go and what type ofinformation he wants. If you concentrateeverything on the information officer, youare going to overwhelm him and he is notgoing to be effective. Mr Speaker, so, if a person wantsinformation, he or she must know wherethey want the information from. If, forinstance, I want information oncommunication, where should I go to,maybe, the Ministry of Power? Whyshould I go to the Ministry of WaterResources, Works and Housing if I wantinformation on labour? Mr Speaker, so, I think that clausemust be looked at. If the informationofficer is applied to and he has it, heshould give it. He cannot give what hedoes not have. So, if one wantsinformation and the officer does not haveit and he/she says so, the applicant wouldgo to where he would have it. The officercan advise the applicant to look at anotherplace. But we should not burden him. He canadvise the person to go to another place,but not burden him with the responsibilityto go and look for the information for theperson. Otherwise, everybody woulddecide to go for the information becausethey know that even if they do not doanything, the person is compelled by lawto go and look for it for them. Mr Speaker, we should just limit it towhat he has. He can advise the applicantto go to another point to look for it if hedoes not have it.
Mr Speaker, Iam more persuaded by the submissionmade by the Hon Member who just spokeand those who spoke earlier to the effectthat, if we are to burden the agency bysending it on a searching spree, whichpublic institution has the information, thatwould be too burdensome. Mr Speaker, the problem with thisprovision is that, first of all, it makes itmandatory. If something is mandatory, itpresupposes that at the end of the day, ifthe agency fails to comply with theprovision, what sanction is going tofollow? Mr Speaker, secondly, the clause says;“shall make the necessary enquiry”. Howdo we define or determine the necessityof the enquiry and who is to determinethat, indeed, the Agency has made thenecessary enquiry? There is a problemthere. But where the agency knows ofany other agency that has theinformation, then in my view, that agencyhas the responsibility, as it is beingprovided for under clause 21(a), to referthe application of the applicant to thatagency. But where the agency does not havethe information, or the information thatthe applicant is seeking for is not in thecustody of the agency, I think it wouldbe too worrisome and burdensome to fixthe agency with that responsibility ofgoing on a searching spree for informationfor the applicant. Mr Speaker, I want to propose that wedelete the provision.