Tag Archives: corruption

Slow and unsteady: Ghana’s Freedom of Information Bill

The entrance to the Parliament of Ghana. The Freedom of Information Bill has, in one form or another, been meandering through Parliament since 2003.

July 7th marked the 30th anniversary of the day Canada’s Access to Information Act received royal assent, becoming law. Within a year the law had come into full force and Canada had joined dozens of other countries committed to government transparency and press freedom. As of January 2012, 90 countries have established nationwide laws ensuring the public’s right to request and receive government-held information.

In 2000, South Africa became the first African country to pass Right to Information legislation. Since then, seven other nations, including Nigeria, Uganda and even Zimbabwe have followed suit. Although Article 21 of Chapter 5 in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana states, “All persons shall have the right to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society,” making one of a few constitutions that guarantee a fundamental right to information, no right to information law exists.

There have, however, been attempts to adopt such a law; the latest of which is sitting motionless in Parliament. The Right to Information Bill, as it was called at the time, was first drawn up in 2003, and went through the drafting and a public consultation process that year. It became stuck in cabinet and lapsed in 2004. The next year the processes had to start again. It wasn’t until 2009 that the second attempt, the Freedom to Information Bill, was finally submitted to Cabinet. It was forwarded to parliament in March 2010, where it has remained, inert.

Such stagnation contradicts a string of political promises. During the 2008 election, the now ruling National Democratic Congress promised Ghanaians that, if elected to government, they would pass the Freedom of Information Bill as soon as possible to demonstrate a commitment to fighting corruption.

The sun sets on Independence Arch in Accra. Ghana’s 1992 Constitution is unique in that it guarantees a fundamental Right to Information.

Parliament Majority Leader, Cletus Avoka, promised that before parliament rises on July 27, 2012 for a three-month recess the bill will be passed. However, he has since reneged, stating in May that “Passage of the Freedom of Information Bill was less important and for that matter, not a priority among various bills currently under consideration by Parliament for passage.”

Now, with only two weeks before a recess that will last until late October, and with only one month of parliamentary sessions left until it dissolves again for December’s election, it is clear the bill will not become law anytime soon.

“They [the government officials] have reservations about the widening transparency and the widening accountability that would come with Right to Information Legislation,” said Nana Oye Lithur, executive director of the Human Rights Advocacy Centre and the convener of the Right to Information Coalition in Ghana. The Right to Information Coalition was created in 2003 and is comprised of journalists as well as members from the National Media Commission, religious bodies, non-governmental organisations, and the Ghana Bar Association. It seeks to mobilize public support for the bill and advocate the government to expedite its passage.

“There’s just no political commitment,” she added.

This is a major problem, as activists and journalists agree Ghana needs the Freedom of Information Bill.

“I think that [the Freedom of Information bill] is a very
positive development which will go a long way to enhance the battle against corruption…it will strengthen the Ghanaian journalist to expose the many corrupt institutions that we have in this country,” said Richard Sky, the parliamentary reporter at Citi FM.

“When it comes to parliament there are so many things that are held out of the public view…once you can have access to information, information is a weapon. Once you have it, you can use it in so many ways to kill this rather monstrous institution of corruption that we have in this country,” he added.

Nana Oye Lithur agrees. The bill will empower Ghanaian journalists and citizens to demand answers and fight corruption.

“It will enhance transparency and accountability. We have serious issues with corruption…[within] every regime we have had some bribe and corruption related cases,” she said.

“Research has shown that with access to information regimes there comes a reduction in corruption… we need to ensure the little resources we have as a country are actually optimized and used to improve the lives of the people of Ghana, and not to go into a few pockets.”

Fuel scarcity fuels corruption in Malawi

Amidst severe fuel scarcities, frustrated drivers queue at a gas station after being tipped off that a tanker is set to arrive to offload petrol. Photo by Elena Sosa Lerín.

It’s a Thursday afternoon and the thermometer is about to hit 40 degrees.

Taxi driver Mike Msindira, 32, is sweaty, exasperated, but resigned to the idea of losing time and his daily income of $75 CAD – instead of driving passengers around, he must spend his time driving all over Blantyre looking for fuel.

He has now been at this gas station for nearly nine hours, has been without fuel for four days, and his tank is still at zero; but he won’t leave because his car is one of the first vehicles in the queue and he’s heard from different sources that this particular gas station will be receiving gasoline and diesel before the end of the day.

Msindira, along with thousands of other Malawians, is experiencing the fourth fuel crisis of the year.

Each crisis has been the result of the government’s inability to import gasoline or diesel due to its inability to acquire forex.

Fuel scarcity in the country has disrupted businesses, affected public services, and even regular activities, such as going to work or driving children to school.

But those who don’t own a car are also hurting.

Due to fuel scarcity, by the end of November, minibus operators announced a significant increase in their bus fares, from an average of 50 cents to around 70 cents per journey. Considering that most Malawians live on less than two dollars a day, many have chosen to walk to and from their workplaces and homes, as they cannot afford to pay the new rates.

But the one thing that the absence of fuel has been fuelling is corruption.

For instance, Msindira says that it’s becoming an unfair but common practice to pay “tips” to gas station attendants to get advanced notice of the day and time the station is set to receive petrol.

If you don’t tip them, Msindira says, you don’t get serviced at all.

The Malawi Energy Regulating Authority (MERA) has stated that it will revoke the licenses of operators who engage in corruption. It also says that it will work with the police and the Anti-Corruption Bureau(ACB) to arrest those attendants who ask for tips. However, to date, nothing has been mentioned as to how these measures will be implemented.

These crises have seen the emergence of a steady black market for the illegal sale of fuel with prices ranging from $5 CAD to $6 CAD per litre.

Adding insult to injury, unscrupulous traders are mixing fuel with other substances, such as paraffin or water, which can potentially harm car engines.

Blessings Nkhambure, 27, an electrical engineer, has waited for 48 hours to get gasoline.

“I’m stinky!” he says, showing the large and dark sweat stains under his armpits.

He hasn’t showered for two days. His meals have consisted of bananas or bread, which he passes down with Fanta. To avoid falling asleep at the gas station at night, he chats with the people around him, or listens to music from his cell phone.

“The government should assist us urgently,” Nkhambure says. “We can’t run our business, we can’t eat, we can’t do anything without fuel.”

In an attempt to pacify the public, the government announced in late October that the Reserve Bank of Malawi had made over $3 million USD available to Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL) to allow the purchase of 15 million litres of fuel.

But this only provided Malawians with 20 days worth of petrol, and fuel scarcity reared its ugly head once more.

Even Energy Minister, Goodall Gondwe, admitted in early November that this effort wasn’t enough, explaining that in fact, $30 million USD is needed to solve the issue.

Each crisis results in a significant economic toll for Malawi.

The CEO of the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI), Chancellor Kaferapanjira, estimates the fuel shortages are costing the economy up to $10 million US a day.

Meanwhile, customers waiting at the gas stations try to remain patient.

But just as nobody seems to know when the fuel shortages will end, it isn’t clear how long consumers’ patience will last either.

“Imagine you’ve got a patient in an ambulance that has no fuel and this patient has to make it to the hospital. If not, the patient dies,” says Msindira. “In this case, the patient is the whole nation.”

Ghana’s youth leaders urged to resist inciting violence during 2012 election

Ghana has long been regarded as a beacon of hope in West Africa and the world will be watching in 2012 when it will mark its 20th anniversary of peaceful democratic elections. In the meantime, leaders here are taking steps to ensure youth activists aren’t lured into jeopardizing that landmark.

“(Politicians) say look at you all you have no jobs, when I come to power I will do A, B, C, D for you. Once you do that, it has the potential to incite the youth to engage out of lawlessness during election period, ” said Stephen Azantilow, Regional Director of Ghana’s Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).

Azantilow chaired a workshop in Tamale in early October where youth leaders from Ghana’s three northern regions were invited to discuss the illegality of accepting money or favours for votes and the importance of integrity and peace during elections. The event was organized by the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition, made up of public, private and civil society groups from across the country.

Calvin Rashid Yahaya, Student Representative Council President at Tamale Polytechnic who participated in the workshop said election violence is a trickle-down effect. Politicians make promises to youth leaders, then those youth leaders in turn gather what are known as foot soldiers – mostly underemployed and illiterate – and pay them small fees to steal ballot boxes and cause other disruptions.

“Most youth they don’t even know what they are about. The law is not available, it’s not made available for them to read. They don’t know why they are fighting. They don’t know why they are lobbying for this person,” he said.

But Kojo Tito Voegborlo, Secretary for the National Commission for Civic Education who also spoke at the event, was quick to challenge him. “There’s a linkage between poverty and some of the ills that go on in the electoral system. But I can also tell you that a large chunk of those who are involved in malpractices are people who are well-to-do. The youth activists who are sitting here, many of them are at least university graduates others Polytechnic, they are well-to-do,” he said.

Here in Northern Region, where tribal violence is not uncommon, political affiliations often run along tribal lines. The 2008 elections saw an outbreak of violence in the region when foot soldiers for the two major political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) clashed at the polling stations. Meanwhile, all over Ghana foot soldiers recruited minors to register and vote in strategic regions, a practice called bussing. Nevertheless, after a tight race NDC leader John Atta Mills was declared victorious, and NPP leader John Kufour stepped down willingly after having served two terms.

Sandra Auther is the Programs Officer for the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition and is organizing these dialogue sessions with youth in trouble spots all over the country.

“Election without peace is chaos. So we’re looking at the fact that with the integrity that they build, they will not give themselves out to people to indulge in things that will destruct the peace of this nation. That at the end of the day, our election goes peacefully and nobody loses their life, we don’t want to be like other countries that we are experiencing around us,” she said.

Yahaya said he fully grasped the meaning of the event, quoting John F. Kennedy’s ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’

“At the end of the day politics is not do or die, it’s not a win or lose affair. When you lose you need to sit down as a team and say – what actually lead to you being at the negative side? It’s about learning. The room for improvement is the best room,” he said.