Info on public interest ensured in RTI
All organisations registered under the law of the land will be bound to provide citizens with information on matters of public interest once the right to information act, now in its draft form, comes into force.
The individuals aggrieved for not getting information or for being supplied with incorrect information can first appeal with heads of the organisations and, if not satisfied, can go to the proposed information commission that will be based in the capital.
Draft of the act, to be titled Right to Information Ordinance, 2008, has already been sent to the chief adviser for his opinion, said sources.
The government will soon hold a roundtable discussion to have stakeholders' opinions and incorporate those in the final draft before sending it for the cabinet's approval.
Following Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed's commitment to enacting the law, an eight-member committee headed by the Information ministry's Joint Secretary (development) Kamal Uddin Ahmed was commissioned to draft the law.
Besides the right to information laws of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the committee analysed the drafts made by the Law Commission and Manusher Jonno Foundation, an NGO working to promote human rights and good governance.
The committee comprising experts from different fields has included in the draft a number of provisions similar to those in the Indian act since socio-economic circumstances of these two countries match closely.
Under the proposed act, every organisation will have an officer designated to provide information sought by the people.
“Not only the government offices, those including NGOs, trusts and corporate houses like Asia Energy who are registered under any law of the country will have to provide people the information they need,” a member of the committee told The Daily Star in return for anonymity.
Asked if the political parties too would be brought within the ambit of the law, he said, “We cannot do that at this moment since they are not registered under any law.”
But once the political organisations are registered they will have to do the same, he added.
If an information officer refuses to provide information, or if they dillydally or supply incorrect information, the aggrieved person can lodge a complaint with head of the organisation concerned.
Veering from the law commission's proposal for setting up district tribunals to deal with the complaints by those who would be deprived of remedies at the organisation level, the committee has proposed instituting an information commission headquartered in Dhaka to settle such cases.
“We think having tribunals in all the districts won't be feasible since it will need a good number of judges to be appointed there. Besides, there will already be an official at each organisation to look up the matters,” said another member of the ordinance drafting committee.
Anyone found guilty of refusing to provide information or of giving misinformation can be awarded imprisonment up to three months and fined Tk 25,000.
The information commission, which will be one of its kind, will have three members including its chief to be an expert in law, administration and information.
One of the members will be drawn from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court while one will be a woman.
A committee of four to five members will make recommendations for appointment to the commission. It will name three persons against each post and the president will pick one from them.
The chief justice will appoint an Appellate Division judge to head the committee that will include the cabinet secretary and chairmen of the Public Service Commission and University Grants Commission, said sources.
Once the right to information act is passed, the other laws and rules that obstruct disclosure of information to people will not be a bar anymore.
Section 1 of Official Secrets Act 1923, section 123 of Evidence Act 1892, Rules 28 (1) of Rules of Business 1996, and section 19 of Government Servants (Conduct) Rules 1979.
However, there will be waiver to disclosure of some types of information including those which if revealed may pose threat to independence and sovereignty of the country, and seek to deteriorate law and order, increase crime, harm public safety and hamper trial of cases already underway.
Besides, disclosure of personal information that may harm a person's secrecy will also be withheld unless it is needed for investigation into any corruption charges against the person, said a member of the drafting committee.
Talking to The Daily Star, many demanded that the draft be put on website or the government publish it so that people can give their feedback.
Besides, they observed that the proposed information commission must be given free rein if it is to play an effective role in ensuring people's right to information.