Culture of secrecy still big barrier to RTI law
One of the major challenges in implementing the Right to Information Act 2009 is the mindset of bureaucrats who are not yet open to the idea of providing information, said speakers at a roundtable yesterday.
They pointed out that the RTI act overrides some outdated legislations, such as the Official Secrets Act 1923, Evidence Act 1872, Rules of Business 1996 and the Government Servants (Conduct) Rules 1979. However, the culture of secrecy that developed for the years still impedes the RTI.
The speakers called for special attention to some loopholes in the act. They mentioned that the law does not yet cover local and multinational corporate houses directly while the list of security agencies exempted from the law is too long. Besides, the NGOs are still quite reluctant to disclose information about their work and funding process, they added.
Right to Information Forum, a platform of 80 organisations and individuals, organised the roundtable marking the International Right to Know Day 2010 in the capital's LGED auditorium.
The RTI act was promulgated in April last year. As per the act every citizen is entitled to seek and receive information held by public bodies.
So far there has not been much progress in engaging citizens in seeking information or creating public awareness about the law, the speakers observed.
They also criticised the recent remarks by prime minister's health adviser Syed Modasser Ali regarding the media's access to information. They said it went against the election pledge of Awami League-led grand alliance government and the goals of the RTI act.
Keynote speaker Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International, Bangladesh, said implementing RTI laws is difficult, often frustrating, worldwide and Bangladesh is no exception. But it is not a magic formula that would change the culture overnight, he added.
He suggested that deliberate denial is made subject to punishment. He also recommended a people friendly legal system, digital information system, removing inconsistencies and contradictions between RTI and other laws, capacity building of the officials and mass people.
Information Commissioner Prof Sadeka Halim stressed incorporating RTI Act in the constitution since the constitution amendment is under process.
The culture of secrecy among the civil servants is a barrier to implementing the act. Similarly people in Bangladesh are hesitant or rather afraid to seek information, said Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation and convener of RTI Forum.
GM Quader, minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism, said right to information is the foundation of democracy. However, it would take time to change the culture of secrecy in public service.
Referring to the comment by PM's health adviser, he said such culture has always been in the country but this was the first time someone said it publicly.
His comment has no association with the right to information. In fact, it is related to good governance, he added.
Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman, standing committee member of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Hafizuddin Khan, TIB chairman and a former adviser to the caretaker government, Mahbubul Alam, editor of the Daily Independent and former advisor to the caretaker government, among others, spoke at the roundtable.