It was almost six years back when the first democratically elected government vowed to introduce the Right to Information (RTI) Act. However, the initiative took a backseat in later years and instead discussion hovered over the necessity of such an act.
The government then also came out with its proclamation that RTI legislation was not a priority.
But those in favor of the legislation had their hopes rekindled when the present ruling government before the elections this year pledged to introduce the RTI Bill. Accordingly, the Bill was introduced last week in the National Assembly, where the latter forwarded it to the legislative committee for review. It will be further deliberated this week.
How successful the discussion would go on is something to be seen amid rising concerns over the unpreparedness of the society, bureaucracy, news media and even the public. Some have even been calling that the focus should be on creating awareness and that enactment should not merely be for the purpose of having an Act.
Undeniably, creating awareness is pivotal. A sort of misconception perhaps is prevalent even in our urban intelligentsia. Many view that it’s the media that is desperately wanting this legislation. But RTI goes much more beyond the news media. The RTI, as enshrined in our Constitution, is a fundamental right of every Bhutanese citizen.
Having this legislation in place means that information is a public property and people should have access to information that have bearing on their lives. The need for RTI, therefore, has become more evident now with the present government’s decentralization mechanism that vies to give full autonomy to local governments and Nu 2 million to every gewog every year. Therefore, people in the gewogs have the right to know, to demand information if the allotted budgets are used accordingly. This will only go on to enhance transparency and accountability, thereby also helping to ensure good governance.
The parliamentarians need not look far for reasons for not having this legislation. For instance, their deliberation on the ACC Annual Report 2012 has exhibited corruption in recruitment and selection process, and even political and electoral corruption, with irregularities in ministries augmenting every year. The RTI tool, therefore, would be helpful in addressing these setbacks. There are already successful cases in India where people have questioned the admission and recruitment process in colleges using RTI legislation.
While having several institutions and mechanism initially would cost exorbitantly, these shouldn’t deter us. Compensation will come accordingly. Imagine how much it would help to save that we keep losing on every year to corrupt practices or corruption.
Often, information is regarded as power in the contemporary world. An informed citizen is a powerful citizen. And if our citizen become one because of this right doesn’t that go well for the country. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?