Asia Foundation Report Finds Many Implementation Issues

12 November 2014

Awareness of right to know laws in three Southeast Asian countries is very low and public officials report many obstacles to implementing the RTI laws, according to a new report by the Asia Foundation.

The study was done in partnership with civil society organizations in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, and with the foundation’s country office in Sri Lanka, which does not have a law.

Researchers used a variety of methods to evaluate the state of implementation and citizens’ use of the law. An annex provides a series of stories about the successful use of RTI requests.

“Perhaps the single greatest challenge to RTI in South Asia is the lack of public awareness of the law and its relevance to the lives of ordinary citizens,” the report says. In street corner interviews, only 24 percent of 263 respondents knew about their country’s RTI law.

Nepal Good on Responses, Pakistan Worst

To test responsiveness to requests, test applications were filed by  citizens, journalists and NGO representatives.

The response rate was worst in Pakistan, where of 39 RTI applications filed only one received a response. Response rates were low in Bangladesh, too, where of 21 requests, information was provided to 13 and seven received no response.

Of the 16 applications filed with public authorities in Nepal, however, all received the information requested on time and free, the study says, noting that the applications were filed by well-known RTI activists.

Officials Cite Challenges

Researchers interviewed 106 public officials to learn about their attitudes and skills, and to evaluate the mechanisms set in place to implement RTI in each county.

They also learned that officials were not in place in many jurisdictions and that many public information officers were unaware of the law and few had undergone training, especially in Pakistan.

The report states:

Most of the PIOs interviewed in Bangladesh viewed the position as an extra responsibility added to their existing roles and functions within their departments. Most of the Pakistani officials interviewed were unaware of their responsibilities under the existing RTI laws; those who were aware tended to view those responsibilities as onerous.

Summarizing the constraints faced, the report says:

PIOs interviewed emphasized the challenges and constraints that they faced on a day-to-day basis in providing access to information under the law. In Bangladesh and Nepal, PIOs highlighted the lack of RTI knowledge and training as a key constraint. PIOs in Bangladesh highlighted the need for departmental guidelines on how to process and handle requests, and recommended the framing of an information disclosure policy. In Nepal, PIOs reported that archaic record keeping systems impeded the speedy recovery of information for RTI requests. In Pakistan, in those districts of Punjab province where there is a demand for information, officials identified insufficient budgets, inadequate resources for photocopying, and a lack of training and capacity building as major constraints.

The information commission in Nepal has an “insufficient” budget, but is far better off than the Bangladesh commission. The Bangladesh commission has difficulty getting compliance with its orders, the report says.

Pakistan, despite being one of the first countries in the region to enact RTI legislation, in 2002, “has a weak law, a poor record of implementation, and extremely limited public demand for information,” according to the report.

Regional Recommendations

The report makes series of “regional recommendations,” followed by sometimes similar recommendations for each of the four countries.

  • Demonstrate political will and commitment to entrench RTI at a country and regional level.
  • The overall responsibility for implementation of RTI laws should be given to a nodal agency in the government.
  • Set a regional minimum standard for proactive disclosure.
  • Link RTI to broader movements for governance reform within the region.
    • Create country-specific and regional caucuses of parliamentarians in support of RTI and good governance.
  • Facilitate dialog and exchange visits among RTI champions in the region.
  • Facilitate the sharing and exchange of experiences among information commissions in the region.
  • Incorporate RTI into the curricula of government training institutes, universities, and other institutions. Modules on RTI, designed by RTI and governance experts in the country, can be incorporated into the curricula of training institutes and administrative staff colleges.
  • Spread awareness and promote the use of the law among different stakeholders, particularly in rural areas.
  • CSOs can also lobby political parties to build in-country support for RTI, support supply side implementation efforts, promote comparative research on RTI implementation in the region,

 

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