New Regulation in Nepal Praised; NIC Lacks Officials

27 August 2013

New regulations on right to information in Nepal are being welcomed, but vacancies at the National Information Commission are becoming an issue.

The revised regulations make 13 positive accomplishments, according to the advocacy group Freedom Forum, which was part of a task force that recommended the changes. Many of the improvements are to the request-handling process.

“The Council of Ministers of Nepal has passed the RTI Regulation (Second Amendment)-2070, which is a landmark achievement in the expansion of RTI practice and movement in Nepal,” said Freedom Forum Chairperson Taranath Dahal.

At the same time, the commission is lacking top officials, according to an Aug. 19 report in Republica by Sangeet Sangroula. The terms of all three commissioners have expired.

“As the major decision making posts have been lying vacant, NIC has not been able to resolve several cases filed by individuals and organizations regarding the violation of Right to Information by public bodies,” the article says.

Many Changes Made

 A summary prepared by Dahal and Freedom Forum Excutive Director Krishna Sapkota details the changes:

Firstly, the reform is aligned to the thrust of the Act to provide citizens with access to official documents held by government and other public bodies in an easy and simple manner. It has made information request application and appeal process wide and practical by legally defining the terms ‘complaint’ and ‘application’ even though the provision of ‘appeal’ was already set out in the law. It has facilitated the legal process to directly report to the National Information Commission (NIC) in case the information request application is not entertained or the applicant is not provided with information. The prevailing practice was it that the NIC did not entertain appeal on the case sans any written response or reason from the head for not providing information.  

Secondly, the amendment has enabled applicant to file appeal to the concerned public agency head within seven days in case he or she is not provided with the information as demanded. Once reviewing such appeal, the head shall order the Information Officer to provide information if it is found that the information was denied or partially provided or wrong information was provided, or make a decision that information cannot be provided. In case of inaction over the appeal from the head during seven days of its filing, the requester may register second appeal to the NIC within 15 days.

Public bodies under the RTI Act are obliged to classify, update and disclose information in a proactive manner on a regular basis. The Act and Regulation provide for a concrete list of 16 types of information that is mandatory for public bodies to disclose in every three months. Thirdly, upholding the provision, the recent amendment has brought four additional areas under the ambit of proactive disclosure that includes a) foreign aid, loan, grants and technical assistance received by any public agencies; b) programme executed by public agencies and their progress; c) list of information classified and protected by public agencies and interval of time set for the protection of such information and; d) record of information request application submitted to the public agency and types of information provided to requesters. The particular intervention is crucial to promote foreign aid transparency and improve record management and dissemination system – a crucial part of the RTI implementation. It has further enriched the scope of the proactive disclosure, underscoring the essence to put public money under scanner and develop robust data management system.

Fourthly, the reform has introduced a new provision allowing illiterate and disabled citizens to request for information from the public agencies orally. Under this, the concerned information officer is obliged to scribe the application on behalf of the requester based on his/her oral request. It has realized the urgency to reach out the access to information to the marginalized and weaker section of the community.

Fifthly, the new rule has obligated NIC to dispose appeal, complaint and application registered by requester based on the demand claim and evidences presented by the requesters and other evidences. The NIC should clarify the reason and basis while issuing any order in the name of the head or withdrawing any appeal, application and complaint. While hearing over the appeal and complaint or application, the NIC now could summon the opponent and defendant and their representatives when required. Further, the NIC is obliged to settle appeals NIC within 60 days of its submission to NIC and 45 days in case of complaint or application. The public agency concerned is now required to execute the order or decision of the NIC within a month of its receipt and inform the NIC accordingly. The responsibility designated to Chief District Officer of the concerned district to collect amount the NIC penalized for not adhering to the RTI obligations will address the problem of non-implementation of NIC’s orders. The idea of one commissioner bench reflected in the policy is expected to improve the performance of the NIC to settle the cases on time.

The government has also made progressive changes in regard to designating information officer from among senior administrative officials at the public agency and setting up a nodal agency to emphatically implement the RTI Act through the Cabinet decision. Designating thematic expert as a member in each classification committee is featured as another achievement in the regulation. The committee is obliged to update the NIC about the list of classified information and also disclose basis and cause while classifying information as confidential.

The amended policy has meticulously opened up a myriad of doors and windows to harness this advantage for better practice of RTI in Nepal. Now the time is to best utilize the policy stride to unleash the power of RTI in multiple areas of public life.

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