Right to Information for All ?

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Right to information act is about to be hammered out in the National Assembly of Bhutan.

Deliberation in the house is making everyone to think of the right to access to information hitherto not in practice in Bhutan’s history. Some are thinking that constitution has granted that right, so a separate act is not required, while some ague that it is not a good time to introduce the bill. Sangay Khandu, the NC member from Gasa is the man behind putting the idea of RTI to the floor.

It is argued that the engine of RTI is fired some seven years ago, but it was held for consultation and public feedback. Whether feed back from all sectors is sought or not, information seeking by the public on the matters of their concern used to be largely ignored. The general public in Bhutan has largely been unaware of the right to information and thus denied by the government.

Opposition party members in the National Assembly are not very supportive of the bill and are relegating to the fear of being paralyzed if the act is to be implemented. One MP, Dorji Wangdi, even do not see the need to have an act in place, which is enshrined in the constitution under fundamental rights. “Having a separate law will only weaken the strength of this fundamental right” was his argument.

Although the former DPT government reiterated its commitment to introduce the bill in 2012, it did not happen or there were other matters before the government to finalize. It was simply a reluctance by the former government to introduce the bill which actually had its origination well back in 2006. Information seeking from the ministers and high-profile officers in bureaucracy by the press in those times and even  after first election was not easy. There were instances when reporters were denied the information with threat, verbal abuse or not at all entertained.

The willingness to introduce the right to information bill by DPT government and the readiness of PDP government to table it in the house is a symbol of progress towards ensuring transparency in service delivery. But the bill is tabled only after having it researched by a group of Columbia university students under Prof. Anya Schiffrin who happened to be the better half of Nobel laureate Prof. Joseph Stiglitz. Prof. Stiglitz had also visited Bhutan in 2010 to give approval to the Bhutan model of quantifying GNH.

The interesting thing will be to see if this group of researchers in New York actually knew the way RTI will be understood and enforced in Bhutan that many have not seen. And in Bhutan, whether it will be comfortable for all to showcase that foreign-brewed information act and be obliged to it.