Bangladesh Law Scored at Fifth Birthday Conference

16 June 2014

Passage of a right to information law five years ago hasn’t been followed by a culture change within government or among citizens.

Assessments of the law came at a forum sponsored by the information commission and, described in a variety of news reports.

“We are trapped in a culture of fear,” said Tahmina Rahman, director for Bangladesh and South Asia of London-based Article 19. “People don’t feel they have the right to go into government offices, so they lack the courage.”??

Khushi Kabir, who is coordinator of Nijera Kori and campaigned for the RTI law, identified “lack of trust” among the public about the Information Commission and said she found reluctance among the people to seek information using right to information law.

She said: “There is a type of reluctance among the people. I feel that people think its trouble, and there is no point – so something is amiss. There should have been waves of applications in response to this positive law.”

The commission was liberal, she said, “but there might be issues within the bureaucracy.”

Several speakers identified raising public awareness as being necessary. Government training and procedures should be improved, Rahman and others said.

Awami League member of parliament Abdul Matin Khasru called for an attitude change among public servants, saying, “The mentality – ‘we will not let people know’ – should change.”

The numbers indicate that since a burst of requests in the first year (25,410) the demand has toned down (11,722 in 2013). The?information commission in its five years has responded to 97 percent of queries.

Official Sees Need for Reform

Nazrul Islam, additional secretary to the Cabinet Division, said a lot of work needed to be done to ease the process of getting information and encourage cooperation from public servants, saying “implementation is a big challenge in any new law.”?

“We are working to sensitise those involved. It’s also possible to provide answers to some of the questions on the government websites,” he was quoted as saying.

He also said:

   – “Information sometimes is not properly arranged. Asking a proper and accurate question is also an issue.”

  – “More time is needed to have the administration provide the kind of service expected of. We are trying.”

  – “This law has made it possible in a lot of ways but other laws must be reformed for it to be fully implemented. We are doing that.”

A Right to Information Ordinance was passed under the military-backed caretaker regime in October 2008. After the Awami League government took office, it passed the Right to Information Act on March 29, 2009. The commission was formed on July 1, 2009.

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