In order to reduce corruption and ensure good governance, effective implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2009 is needed. Proper implementation of the law will help ensure transparency and accountability of the government, speakers said at a virtual discussion yesterday.
The discussion was organised by Right to Information Forum, a coalition of institutions and individuals working on implementing the RTI Act. The programme marked the International Day for the Universal Access to Information.
RTI Forum Convener and Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam said, "The RTI act is not just a tool for seeking information from government authorities, the right to information actually occupies an important place in the discourse of freedom of thought, conscience and speech."
"The true spirit of this act will not be fulfilled if people are afraid to speak up," she said.
She also urged all to break the culture of impunity, which has created a culture of fear among people.
During his speech, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said many government officials try to limit how much information is available to the public.
He said a section of political leadership and government officials consider information as government property. This essentially restricts the maxim that the public are owners of all information.
Meghna Guhathakurta, executive director of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh, alleged that in many cases government officials reprimand information seekers, which discourages them to seek more information.
Nijera Kori Secretary Khushi Kabir said the effective use of RTI rights was important to ensure rights and democracy. She also reported that the number of information seekers dropped significantly during the Covid-19 situation.
Chief Guest at the discussion, Chief Information Commissioner Martuza Ahmed, stressed on ensuring free flow of information during emergency situation like Covid-19 and suggested CSOs land RTI activities to work more to motivate and inspire people for effectively using the RTI application throughout the country.
Former Chief Information Commissioner Prof Golam Rahman termed it unfortunate that the number of information seeking applications are decreasing.
He urged the government to include information-providing services as emergency service during times of crises like the pandemic.
At the onset of the discussion, MJF Knowledge Management Director Rezwan-ul-Alam presented findings from research works on RTI during 2019-2020. A total of 15 research works -- such as studies, surveys, assessments, journal articles, and conference papers -- were produced during the time.
The findings revealed that research interests on the RTI Act and its implementations are limited only to a few NGOs and individual. Mostly funded by development partners, these studies, mostly in English, covered a wide-range of research topics, generally covering both supply and demand sides.
The presentation recommended the strengthening of both research and strategic communication capacities of the information commission; compilation of learning, best practices and case studies of the past decade; and collaboration with universities to undertake joint-research works.