Right to Know Day
That the UN has dedicated a day to the people's Right to Know is a significant development. The right is considered sacrosanct in any civilised setting and is the cornerstone of democracy and good governance.
We are observing the day and are proud to have the Right to Information Act legislated here in Bangladesh it is indeed a triumph for our democracy. It is now a legal guideline, like the right to speech or assembly, that will give people unconditional access to information on governmental activities. It will ensure transparency and accountability and should also be a potent weapon to fight against corruption and poor performance by government functionaries. It should also give the people a much clearer view of how they are being governed and where things are going wrong.
However, the benefit of such a law being in place cannot be reaped fully due to certain constraints like a) people do not know much about the law and b) demand for information is not yet high and the supply side is also not free flowing. The government departments need capacity-building to serve people with information. Similarly, the culture of maintaining secrecy, rather unnecessarily in most cases, has to be done away with. It is an open world today and the days of an inward-looking, self contained and detached bureaucracy are over.
The government has much to do to create the conditions in which people will exercise their right to information in a constructive manner. It should launch a publicity campaign to inform people on the RTI and how it can work to their benefit.
The role of the media has also not been effective enough in making the citizens familiar with various aspects of the RTI. The media has to adopt a proactive position in this respect.
Finally, it is the people for whose benefit the RTI has been enacted and it is they who have to be active participants in the process of disseminating and sharing information. They have to start on a positive note and believe that the government officials are there to serve them and they cannot hide any information. Having access to information is not a privilege, nor is it an attempt to bring out secrets; it is a right that the people have been given by the state, thanks to the RTI. They have to exercise the right, if and when necessary, to make governmental activities more transparent and accountable. After all, secrecy is the evil doers' weapon, while openness is a powerful trait of the honest and efficient.