Implementation of Bangladesh RTI Law Needs Improvement

14 November 2011

By Robaet Ferdous and Jagaran Chakma

Ferdous is an Associate Professor, Dhaka University and Chakma is a Staff Reporter of The Independent where this article first appeared on Oct. 29, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

The Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2009, was  adopted in the first session of the Ninth Parliament on March 29, 2009. The provisions of the law came into effect on July 1, 2009, and the next day the government formed the Bangladesh Information Commission.

This Act is not only designed  to ensure access to information but to ensure transparency, accountability  and establish good governance and reduce corruptions in government, autonomous bodies, semi-governmental and non-governmental organizations.

But the applications that were placed by the people — demanding information from the different authorities — were not relevant to remove corruption and ensure accountability and transparency of the government and the NGOs. A lot of applications were made: demanding information on licensing process of fire arms, opening of bank accounts, the services of women and children affairs directorate etc.  Such information is not related with corruption and accountability. RTI is not required to achieve this information. The information that the authority wants to hide, mostly related with financial affairs, can bring accountability and transparency by using the RTI. But RTI users are mostly not using it for this purpose.

RTI Losing Its Shine?

The users in many cases are seeking information from the authority which is publicly available and not coded in secrecy. As a result, the spirit of RTI act is gradually losing its shine.

The extra pressure on officers increased due to the information seekers demanding information from them. But accountability and transparency are not being ensured. It is clear that this type of application regarding the RTI will not be able to ensure transparency and good governance, where the RTI role is lacking.  Nijera Kori, a development organisation conducted a study on applications placed by landless people relating to the RTI.

The study report said three applications among 14 were responded and provided with information regarding medicare services of the health department, 10 among 31 were provided on social safety net programme, three applications were placed to the local cooperative office but no information was provided on time, five applications were responded among 25 regarding  Khas lands and water logging.

The study said that the local people did not get any information when they applied for information related to financial affairs and corruption related information. 

It was very interesting that no application regarding RTI has been placed in 29 districts of the country in 2010. This is the scenario of RTI use at the grass roots level in the country.

Commission Run by Bureaucrats

Many people think that the work of the Information Commission is slow and it is so-called independent. There is a strong logic against this thinking of the people. The Information Commission should come out with its image as it is an independent body, not just another government body proving its mettle through its activities. But the commission is far from this activity as it has been often reported as a bureaucracy-dependent commission. It is a matter of regret that two-thirds of the commissioners are former members of the bureaucracy.

From the colonial era in our country the bureaucrats developed a built-in tendency to wrap up information in layers of secrecy. They don’t even consider coming out of this culture and encourage proactive disclosure of information in the greater interest of the nation and democracy.

For nearly two hundred years the bureaucrats practiced the fine art of how to hide information as well as fending them off the people even though they were public servants. But even after knowing this, the government appointed former bureaucrats to run the commission.

It is really confusing how the commission will ensure the free flow of information. There are a number of commissions in our country where the formers bureaucrat s can work.

But the information commission has been formed with former bureaucrats. The bureaucracy dependent information commission is contradictory to the philosophy, history and practice of RTI. So, it should be taken under consideration to involve people in it who are used to free thinking and free flow of information like journalists, media personalities, media specialists and lawyers.

It is remarkable that we have got a RTI Act befitting the time. There is a huge scope to use the RTI in our country. Accountability, transparency and good governance will be ensured whenever the RTI will be ensured at every stage of government and non-government institutions as well as corruption will be removed. For this reason the identified impediments hindering the RTI implementation should be removed at first and action plan should be prepared.

Publicity About RTI Law Urged

The law should be introduced to the grass roots people and an easy version of the RTI act should be prepared so that the masses of the people can understand and become conversant with the law. Then they can use it in their interest. It is appreciable that the information commission has prepared an easy version of the RTI Act to reach to the people. But it is limited.

The government has to allocate sufficient funding to implement a number of activities to create awareness among the common people. The NGOs should work along with the information commission, creating awareness among the people through different programmes. The political parties and the government should take it seriously to implement the RTI in greater interest of democracy and establish good governance and expected development.

The government should also consider the issue of involvement of free thinking people, intellectuals, media personalities, journalists and lawyers with the commission.

The government should consider the issue to break the culture of secrecy and colonial mindset of the government officials. We should build up such type of culture where people will get information whenever they will seek from the official authority. We should open the window of information to remove corruption from society, ensure accountability and transparency to ensure development and build up a developed nation.      

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