It refers to the published editorial in The Daily Star on September 28,2010 entitled "Right to Know Day, Reap the benefits of RTI." The Right To Information (RTI) Act is no doubt a progressive instrument of democracy empowering citizens to obtain information. At the same time, the government cannot be faulted for proposing to exempt file notings from the Act's purview. As rightly pointed out by the media experts, the disclosure of file notings will harm the process of decision making as officials will refrain from rendering objective advice. The best course would be to have a full-fledged debate on the issue before introducing the amendment. The government's withdrawal of the move to dilute the RTI Act is doubtless a significant victory for the people of Bangladesh. Who would want to dilute the Act except those who have something to hide? RTI activists should not become complacent though. Like a dormant virus, the amendments can reappear with virulence. In order to exercise the freedom of speech and expression effectively, we need an informed public opinion. The right to knowledge includes the right to information. The right to information thus flows out of freedom of speech and expression.
The Right to Information Act is not the repository of the right to information. Its repository is the constitutional right to free speech and expression. The RTI Act is merely an instrument that lays down the statutory procedure in the exercise of this right. It is, therefore, necessary that all exceptions and denials or exemptions and denials of the right to information must necessarily conform to restrictions that bear a nexus to those mentioned in the act. On the bureaucracy's stranglehold on the decision-making process, I cannot but quote a passage from Franz Kafka's The Castle. "All governments are subject to one international order the bureaucracy. It considers itself omnipotent and backs itself up. The ideological system may change, but the bureaucracy continues to function without a hitch, because, free as it is from any value judgements, it has no difficulty in integrating itself with any system ... Even in the midst of political turmoil and uncertainty, it will trust its own law and endure. Not even its smell will change." Government files are of two kinds note file and current file. The note file covers the entire process of decision-making while the current file comprises only correspondence which is ordinarily accessible. If the notings and discussions in the note file are made accessible to the public, officers and ministers will be forced to treat issues impartially. Some notes may be irrelevant or digressing bits. Any exposure to the notings alone will be misleading and will give room for distorting the truth. The writer of the note intends it for the decision maker and not for public reading. It will be unfair to him if it is made public. His rights also need to be protected. Further to the note approved, I wish to bring to light some other methods followed in government offices with respect to file nothings. When files are put up with notes to some officials for orders, they write "P.I." (Personal inspection) or "speak" in pencil. After their demands are met, they call for the files, erase the pencil marks and approve the notes. If they make the remarks in pen they write "inspected" and "spoken" beside the original observations and approve the notes. The ruling government has shelved the amendments to the RTI for the time being. The all-powerful bureaucracy will be waiting to push them through. Political witch hunting has become the rule every time a new government assumes power. The people have a right to know what compelled the government of the day to embark on retrospective review of cases. The file notings will expose the real intentions. Of course it will be a different matter if an issue is decided orally with the help of pliable officers.