RTI: A vision lost?
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?