RTI: A vi­sion lost?

Business Bhutan - - Editorial -

The prom­ise of the Right to In­for­ma­tion (RTI) Act has gath­ered dust since the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment’s time.

While the present gov­ern­ment also pledged to en­act the RTI Act, three years into its term, and there are still no signs of much hope for those seek­ing to see the Act through.

In fact, dur­ing the Thurs­day ses­sion of the Na­tional As­sem­bly, Op­po­si­tion MPs stood their ground against the In­for­ma­tion Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia (ICM) Bill 2016, ar­gu­ing they wanted the RTI Bill tabled first. To com­pli­cate mat­ters fur­ther, it was sup­pos­edly pro­posed that the ICM Bill cover pro­vi­sions per­tain­ing to right of in­for­ma­tion.

But the move to in­clude right to in­for­ma­tion un­der the ICM Bill would be down­right stupid.

The ICM Bill seeks to re­peal the BICMA Act 2006 and stream­line it to cover sep­a­rate re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the gov­ern­ment and Bhutan In­for­ma­tion Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Author­ity be­cause over­lap­ping man­dates of the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (MoIC) and BICMA have of­ten led to con­fu­sion. Now if right to in­for­ma­tion pro­vi­sions were in­cluded in the Bill, the whole pur­pose of fram­ing the ICM Bill would be de­feated.

Con­sid­er­ing that the ICM Bill is one with a vast purview over mat­ters like me­dia, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion, etc, and im­ple­ment­ing it would be one mas­sive task re­quir­ing huge re­sources and man­power, adding right to in­for­ma­tion would be mak­ing the whole im­ple­men­ta­tion and over­see­ing process one up­hill, al­most im­pos­si­ble task.

But per­haps the more im­por­tant dan­ger here is the pos­si­bil­ity that the RTI Act will never see the light of day. The Na­tional As­sem­bly passed the Bill in a pre­vi­ous ses­sion but the Up­per House re­jected it cit­ing that they were not given enough time for de­lib­er­a­tions. The Coun­cil also said that the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions did not make a pre­sen­ta­tion to them. In the blame game that en­sued, the RTI bill was lost, and no one took the trou­ble to fol­low up.

Whom are we to blame? The Na­tional Coun­cil that pre­sented a weak ex­cuse for not pass­ing an im­por­tant bill or the gov­ern­ment for not pur­sui­ing it fur­ther?

Right to in­for­ma­tion is cru­cial for a young democ­racy to flour­ish. It is no new fact that the gen­eral pub­lic and sec­tors like the Bhutanese me­dia are hand­i­capped be­cause of the never-end­ing bu­reau­cratic red tape and un­nec­es­sary has­sles in­volved in ac­cru­ing in­for­ma­tion. To get a sim­ple bit of in­for­ma­tion from gov­ern­ment agen­cies, jour­nal­ists of­ten need to write nu­mer­ous ap­pli­ca­tions and route it through a lengthy process, and sadly this is true even now, as the coun­try steps into its eighth year of democ­racy.

The me­dia is the fourth es­tate and em­pow­er­ing it through the Right to In­for­ma­tion Act would fa­cil­i­tate ease of ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion in a sys­tem that in­ad­ver­tently tries to choke this right.

The gov­ern­ment has a re­spon­si­bil­ity not only to ful­fill its cam­paign pledge but to leave be­hind a prece­dent set­ting ex­am­ple of how a healthy me­dia can help fos­ter a health­ier democ­racy – through check and bal­ance, and so­cial ac­count­abil­ity.

A max­i­mum of three par­lia­men­tary ses­sions re­main for the gov­ern­ment, which is into the last leg of its term. Will it take the ini­tia­tive to re­vive the RTI Bill? Or will this too be a case of a vi­sion lost?

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