This week Your Advocate is Barrister Omar Khan Joy, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh. He is the head of the chambers of a renowned law firm, namely, 'Legal Counsel', which has expertise mainly in commercial law, corporate law, family law, employment and labor law, land law, banking law, constitutional law, criminal law, IPR and in conducting litigations before courts of different hierarchies.
I am a Masters student from Rajshahi University and my thesis paper requires some data from the Finance Ministry. My query is whether I have the right to ask for any data if so, how? Further, is the ministry under any obligation to provide the data?
Thank you for your question. The notion about a person's right to information and to what extent it can be legally demanded is an uprising subject that is being asked quite frequently. The concept is still relatively new in our country and seems to have created some confusion. It is a rather pressing issue and requires clarity for the betterment of the society in general. True knowledge about one's legal right to information will empower the people and help to provide fluid access to necessary information and also ensure transparency.
Originally Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh ensures the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression and freedom of press, and subjects these rights to reasonable restrictions in the interest of state security, public order, etc. The right to seek, receive and impart information is not explicitly mentioned, although the preface of the Right to Information Act 2009 (hereinafter referred to as “RTI Act”) instructs that this right is an unchallengeable part of freedom of expression.
According to Section 4 of the RTI Act, every citizen shall have the right to information from the authority, and the authority shall, on demand from a citizen, be bound to provide him with the information. In the question you mentioned about seeking “data” which is included in the broad definition of “information”. The Finance Ministry of Bangladesh is a government organization and it falls within the definition of “authority” as defined in the RTI Act. Thus, at an initial glance it can be said data can be sought from the Ministry.
Section 6 of the RTI Act provides a list of information that citizens can ask from the authorities. Right to information is laid down as a principle underlying the functioning of the government or governmental organizations and every other authority shall make all information of decisions, actions available to the citizens. Furthermore, authorities are forbidden from concealing any information or limiting its easy access to the citizens of the country.
However, there are some restrictions, not all information is allowed for unveiling at the public domain; not everything can be disclosed. Section 7 of RTI Act lists down this prohibited information. Thus, it is not mandatory for the authorities to disclose or provide certain types of information. It is specifically mentioned that the publication or disclosure of such information that will or is likely to threaten the security, integrity and sovereignty of Bangladesh; any information that can affect the existing relation with foreign countries or international organization etc. is not required to be revealed. Disclosure which would obstruct enforcement of law or expose business underlying privacy or reveal the privacy of person's personal life or may jeopardise the life or physical safety of a person etc. are all also not mandatory.
Therefore, whether you have a right to ask for the “data” you require for your thesis depends on the “type of data” you are seeking. Your question does not specify exactly what “data” you are soliciting from the ministry. However, if it is generalised data or any other material that does not fall within the list of prohibited information the ministry is under an obligation to provide you with it.
In order to ask for the information you have to submit a formal application to the ministry. The application for information request can either be made in the form printed by the authority or in a prescribed form. On the other hand, if forms are not printed or not easily available or format has not been prescribed, then the application can be written on a plain white paper. You need to mention your details including name, address, contact information, correct and clear description of information sought, and the method in which it is sought. I hope that the above response shall help you in your course of action.
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