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Before passing Right to Information Law, ensure effective records management systems in public

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Information is considered the fourth basic need of man after food, shelter and clothing, and private and public institutions in recent times are constantly searching for accurate and relevant information to make informed decisions. It is not surprising that there are various ongoing discussions in the different media on the passage of the Right to Information (RTI) bill. However, as I listen and read through articles written on the subject from different perspectives, I am sure my well reserved professional opinion must be shared. Apart from the known/purported fears that the political class hates transparency and accountability, only the records and information management community in Ghana will understand another important reason why it has become so hard for the government to pass the bill. Stipulated in article 21 (1)(f) of the 1992 Constitution, the RTI law when passed will empower citizens to demand and receive documents/information kept by the government or any public institution that have been generated about their lives as citizens of Ghana, and will make them knowledgeable contributors to governance and development unless the information requested could compromise national security or public safety. This is a function that will undoubtedly require strong backing from records management systems in public sector institutions.

I agree with other writers that a right to information regime is important in ensuring transparency and accountability, and is perfectly in sync with a democratic system. However, before pressuring the government to pass the bill it is important to pressure them to well-resource and empower the institutions responsible for storing, managing and making the public records/information accessible. The state of the records systems in the various public sector institutions/departments in Ghana is nothing to write home about, and passing the RTI law in such a state will mean trouble for the government.

It is strange that despite their key role in helping the Government achieve transparency and accountability, archivists, records managers, records officers and other information management professionals have received little attention in Ghana, and their offices are seldom respected. The neglect of the management and preservation of state records is heartbreaking. Meanwhile, many problems faced by our nation could be resolved if good records management were to be seen as an essential factor for national development. According to Asamoah et al (2015), studies have shown that more attention is directed towards media, civil society, human rights, and parliamentary democracy, while neglecting memory institutions when it comes to governance issues in Africa. As a member of the Archives & Records Management Association of Ghana (ARMAG), I have heard countless experiences shared regarding the obstacles faced by people in the field who have started projects to help effective management of the receipt, creation, management and use of records in their respective institutions, but have had their efforts thwarted or their budget slashed. The state of the Public Records & Archives Administration Department (PRAAD) and its regional offices attests to this fact.

The Public Record and Archives Administration Act, 1997 (Act 535) established PRAAD with a mandate to manage public records in the country. However, during an ARMAG seminar last year on digital transformation, Mr. Felix Ampong, the Acting Director, said that the lack of funding and logistics have undermined its role. It was recently reported in the news that Senior Minister Mr. Yaw Osafo-Maafo was leading a five-member government delegation to China to seek financial and technical support for the establishment of an e-records management system for PRAAD. I will not easily applaud this move. The effective management and preservation of a nation’s records should be among the top items listed on a nation’s budget if the government believes in the importance of the authority records hold. Again, the growing number of missing VAT invoices advertised by the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) in the Daily Graphic these days is disturbing. It goes to show how we have neglected the proper protection and preservation of the important documents in our public institutions. I urge the Government of Ghana to get its priorities right and make sure that PRAAD and records offices in the MDAs are well resourced to perform their duty of safeguarding the nation’s collective memory for informed decision-making, before making passage of the RTI bill a big deal.

We should not forget that when we suppress the authority of the transparency and accountability evangelist, we ultimately block the opportunity for a better society in which issues concerning unemployment, insecurity, poor governance, poor planning, poor decision-making, and unnecessary wastage of resources are minimal.

The issue here, I believe, is not passing the bill but ensuring that there are effective records/information management systems, through the proper engagement with records/information management professionals who can apply records management principles, standards and procedures. Without this, the Government will have great difficulty providing access to certain records/information when the bill is finally passed.

It is time for Ghana as a nation to realize that the need to manage information is an important resource, equal to land, labor and capital. Good records/information management is the road to national development.

Before the Right to Information Bill is passed, let us make sure our records keeping systems are in order.

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