The Right to Information Act, which empowers people to hold government officials accountable, did not yield expected results due to poor number of applications, speakers said at a discussion yesterday.
They said proper implementation of the Right to Information Act-2009 could be a step forward for a democratic society. A campaign, down to the grassroots level, is required to encourage people to apply the RTI more frequently.
Graft watchdog Transparency International Bangladesh organised the discussion on “Right to Information Act and Tackling Corruption: Experience from the law’s first decade and future doables” at its Dhanmondi office to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
The Right to Information Act-2009 is different from the country’s other laws, said TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman.
It is because a law generally empowers the state to “control people’s behaviour and bring them under accountability. This particular law is mainly for empowering the people”, he said.
The government, especially its organisations, can be held accountable through disclosure of information and this law ensures it, he added.
“We believe the law will play a significant role in establishing good governance and tackling corruption,” he said.
Strategy-based action plan has to be taken for RTI’s implementation, he said, adding that this action plan can be for short-, medium- and long-term.
He hoped the media’s role will be more proactive to this end by overcoming challenges like prevailing “atmosphere of intimidation, fear, and self-censorship”.
Iftekharuzzaman said the Information Commission has to be more functional and acquire more professionalism to achieve its goal, while government officials have to be more cooperative for the law’s success.
In terms of standards, Bangladesh’s law is 26th among 124 across the globe.
According to a TIB concept paper shared with the media, 99,238 applications were filed under the act until 2018.
“This [number] is nominal in terms of Bangladesh’s population, lack of good governance and massive corruption,” it said.
Journalist and media analyst Afsan Chowdhury said he conducted a survey on 100 individuals from different tiers of the society and found that 89 of them had experienced corruption in their daily lives.
However, 75 of them did not know about the RTI. Twenty of them heard about the law and had a “clear concept” about it, he said.
Sixty-five respondents said information can reduce corruption, he added while presenting the survey outcomes.
The RTI can give people better knowledge of governance and sense of participation, said Afsan.
Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said the RTI is the only law whose implementation depends on the people.
He said the RTI should also be applied to get information from political parties. He said corruption is not indulged in “without political parties’ patronage”.
Dnet Executive Council Member Ananya Raihan said RTI’s section-2 says the law will have a priority over all other laws in case of dissemination of information.
The government has made some progresses in disclosing information willingly in recent years because the law’s section-6 makes it responsible for doing so, he said.