Bangladesh RTI ACT, 2009: Present Status and Scope

15 April 2011

By Sanjida Sobhan

Coordinator, Manusher Jonno Foundation

Perhaps the Right to Information Act, 2009 is one of the much talked about issues in Bangladesh after Nari o Sishu Nirjatan Domon Ain 2003 (songshodito) [Act for Suppression of Violence against Women and Children].

Demand for such Act came from every corner of the society like human rights defenders, media professionals, academicians, legal activists, civil society, grassroots organisations, national NGOs and above all, from concerned citizens. This Act is known to be a landmark and progressive legislation enacted to protect the rights of the entire population of the land, promoting human rights and ensuring transparency and accountability.

The act in its introductory part, has recognized the right to information as an inalienable part of freedom of thought, conscience and speech. It has also highlighted the importance of this right in ensuring people’s empowerment. The preamble further elaborates that “if the right to information of the people is ensured, transparency and accountability in all public, autonomous and statutory organizations, and in other private institutions run on government or foreign funding shall increase, corruption of the same shall decrease and good governance of the same shall be established”. The Act has given a clear guideline on how to collect, preserve, maintain and provide information. The Act indicates that any citizen can seek or demand information from Authority and the Authority is bound to provide information based on the demand it receives.

In 2002, a draft Bill on Right to Information Act was prepared by the Law Commission, though the draft was not developed in a participatory manner and was not shared among related stakeholders. Transparency and accountability are major components of participatory democracy and is considered as strong commitments of the state towards its citizens. To ensure good governance, it is also required to develop informed citizen. There is no denying the fact that only informed citizens can bring improvement in the quality of life and hence can bring positive impact in the area of development. An informed citizen knows how to access information or services and can understand how to use information in the process of realising their political, civil, economical and legal rights, which in a way help citizens to become an asset and strength of the society. Informed people can participate in the development process and this participation makes state more people centric, which is the ultimate goal of democracy. A duty bearer has to come a step forward in ensuring that its services are accessible, transparent and accountable through utilizing RTI Act since this act refers to a tool for participatory governance system. The core spirit of this Act itself has recognised that this Act will ensure good governance and promote human rights.

   

The Right to Information Act has a significant effect.

Implementation of RTI Act could be effectual and may have more successful impact if it is used with development schemes. RTI Act, cannot be utilised as a standalone instrument. The uniqueness of this Act is that it has to be integrated with other issues.

In India, right to information has gained popularity among common people. Apart from using it in various issues, it is also exercised to monitor use of national resources, especially to reduce poverty. In India, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) came into force on February 2, 2006 with the aim to enhancing livelihood securities of households in rural areas, through creating employment opportunities or to provide unemployment allowances if employment opportunities, cannot be created. There was an apprehension that NREG program would generate fund leakage and wide corruption and hence it will hamper effective implementation. During implementation of NREG, RTI Act 2005 was made an integral part of the Act (NREGA). The website http://www.nrega.nic.in developed by Ministry of Rural Development (Government of India) shows how RTI can be integrated into development schemes. The operational guideline of NREGA has recognized that, “The Right to Information Act should be followed both in letter and spirit in all matters relating to NREGA.”

In Bangladesh there are many schemes which have been introduced targeting population in vulnerable situation, like widows, old age, and Adivasi people among others. Recently the government has initiated programme named “the employment generation program for the hard core poor”. This program could integrate the RTI Act in its regular delivery process. Similarly, other safety net programmes could incorporate the RTI Act to bring a qualitative change in delivery system. Since the prime objective of the Act is to ensure transparency and accountability in governance, so integrating RTI Act will help in promoting good governance. On the other hand, targeted beneficiaries will be able to receive services offered by the government and non-government organisations.

Recently, BPATC had conducted a training program among designated officers of some government departments. Participating officers said that most of the field level offices specially having human interface gives information frequently to their target groups. Most of the services offered by agriculture department, health, family planning, livestock and women affairs department, at the field level, usually provide information to local community. Giving and outing information regarding government initiatives, benefits, services are already being done by the field level offices as it is one of their major functions. But these offices are performing their routine job without integrating RTI. If the RTI Act could be integrated with the delivery mechanism of those services then those services would be institutionalised and thus will automatically get added value.

Frequent transfer of designated officers is one of the implementation challenges the government is facing. The information Commission and BPATC have undertaken some steps to build capacity of designated officers in terms of their roles and responsibilities as described in the Act. It is expected that these initiatives will strengthen the designated officers’ aptitude for total information management, starting from information collection, preservation to delivering it to the common people. Once a person gets acquainted and is involved with the entire process of information managing system, she/he can perform her/his functions more accurately and efficiently. So transfer of officers may hinder the pace of the implementation process. We may take examples or copy formula from other countries, which are having similar kind of governance system. Government training centers have undertaken training initiatives to enable government officers so that the value and spirit of RTI can be successfully reached over the whole structure.

Many may think that as a duty bearer, the government alone is responsible for dealing with and providing information. RTI Act 2009 has not designated only public or government bodies as Authority which is bound to provide information voluntarily or when it is asked for. Any private organisation or institution, if run on government or foreign funds, is also considered as Authority under this Act. So it is important for both government and non-government authority to disclose information voluntarily except these that are information which is related to state security and having strategic importance. So far, we understand, the different bodies of the government has nominated more than thousand government officers and staff as Designated Officers whereas 201 non government institutions have appointed designated officers out of some 30000 NGOs. As NGOs have also raised their voice to enact RTI Act very strongly, they should be more responsive in terms of designating officers. In Bangladesh, the said Act has given Information Commission such authority that he can give direction to any authority for appointing designated officers.

Information Commission has also been given much authority to operate. It can impose penalty on a party if he or she refuses to provide information. As per section 13 (1) of the Act, Information Commission can entertain complains if a particular authority does not nominate designated officer. In India, the RTI Act 2005 has given the Information Commission such independence and authority that the Goa State Information Commission has issued notice to the Governor directing him to personally appear before the commission in connection with complaint filed against him by an advocate named Aires Rodrigues for non- complying with the Right to Information Act.

There have been many debates and controversies regarding the scope of the RTI Act. Controversies may have genuine ground but at the same time we have to keep it in mind that it is much better if the Act is in operation rather than a paper tiger. Of course there is scope for improvement but we all must try to utilise the Act as much as possible for the benefit of the people for whom the act has been formulated. Recent sms mobile phone message and TV scroll news show that the Information Commission itself is enlightening people with the message that asking information from authority is the people’s right. We all should welcome such initiatives. We are expecting that the Commission will come up with some innovative ideas which will create …. free flow for information and environment.

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