Written by: Michael Gyekye
The government of Ghana has recently tabled before the country’s Parliament a controversial bill that purports to hand some state investigative officers the discretionary authority to intercept electronic and postal communications of citizens, ostensibly to aid crime prevention. The Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Messages Bill, popularly called the Spy Bill, has provoked intense opposition from the public and local civil society. Kofi Bentil, a lawyer, advocate of accountable and responsible governance and Vice President of IMANI Africa, is a vocal opponent of the bill. He shares his thoughts on the Spy Bill in the following interview.
Michael Gyekye for the Rational Standard: Can you educate our readers on the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Messages Bill, popularly dubbed the Spy Bill, which is currently before the Parliament of Ghana for passage into law?
Kofi Bentil of IMANI Africa: The bill gives permission to the government in section 4(3) to intercept anyone’s communications upon receiving an oral order from a public official. There are other provisions which require a judge, but section 4(3) overrides them all and so I have no doubt that it will be abused heavily!
MG: Does the bill or the mode of its passage contradict or conform to the letter and spirit of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana?
KB: The bill and mode of passage are in line with the Constitution. The only part which breaches Article 18(2) of the Constitution is the portion in section 4(3) of the bill.
MG: The Spy Bill has elicited growing public backlash since its introduction became a matter of public knowledge some weeks ago. Are there any warrants for this public outcry?
KB: Yes, because it undermines everybody’s freedoms and liberty; and will surely lead to abuse. I have no doubt that citizens’ freedom to communicate without interference will be compromised.
MG: Ghana head to the polls in November for a high stakes Presidential and Parliamentary elections. What impact does this bill have on political tensions in the country?
KB: This bill will enable the party in power and other public officials to spy on everyone whenever they want to, and they will use the information for political purposes and even criminal purposes like blackmail.
MG: You have reportedly declared an intention to head to the Supreme Court of Ghana to seek a nullification of the bill should it be passed into law. Does this signal your fear that Ghana’s Parliament would just ignore the hazards of the potential law and proceed with the passage of the bill?
KB: I suspect that the bill will be passed by the majority using their numbers, regardless of the arguments against it. That is why I will go to the Supreme Court. Parliament doesn’t have the right to pass a bill which is at variance with the Constitution, the Supreme Court is the place to cure that error.
MG: What advice do you have for governments in other parts of the continent that have enacted or plan to make similar legislations?
KB: Politicians must know that they will not always be in power. They must also know that such laws increase misery and help no one. They must appreciate that if they run their nations well, they will have less opposition, and even if they have opposition, they don’t have a right to infringe on citizens’ rights and liberties!
Author: Michael Gyekye is an African Students For Liberty Local Coordinator based in Ghana.