BANGLADESH: Right to information act soon, says Chief Adviser
Leader of caretaker government also says journalists must continue playing "strong role" to achieve freedom of information law
The Daily Star
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Terming free flow of information a driving force in democracy and good governance, Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed yesterday expressed the hope that the government will soon formulate a right to information act.
"I hope the information and the law ministries would soon take a step for making this law effective," he said while inaugurating a convention styled Right to Information for a Democratic and Corruption-free Bangladesh.
Noting that the caretaker government would promulgate the act, Law and Information Adviser Mainul Hosein said the act however requires approval in parliament.
The journalists and civil society need to play a strong role for promulgating the law, he added.
Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) organised the convention at a city hotel attended by journalists, civil society members and development partners.
Ain o Salish Kendra Executive Director Advocate Sultana Kamal, MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam, Research Institute of Bangladesh Chairman Dr Shamsul Bari also spoke at the convention chaired by MJF Chairperson Syed Manzur Elahi.
Speaking as the chief guest, Fakhruddin Ahmed said there is a direct link between the flow of information and socioeconomic affluence.
"The easier the availability of information in a state, the higher is its stage of development. On the other hand, underdevelopment is directly related to corruption."
Besides ensuring public welfare, optimum utilisation of information reduces corruption in society, polity, economy and state machinery, he said, adding: "As a consequence, the ordinary poor citizens are benefited the most."
There should be transparency in poverty alleviation projects taken up for achieving the millennium development goals, the head of the caretaker government observed. It would be possible to reduce the level of poverty if the public sector services could be delivered to the poorer segments of population in a proper manner, he noted.
"If the citizens could learn these initiatives, their participation as well as accountability of the government could be ensured. The process of building a corruption-free democratic society would also be consolidated in this way."
Referring to proposals of the Public Administration Reforms Commission to make official information public, Fakhruddin said the government is eager to introduce the concept of citizens' charter in all service-providing government organisations soon.
Speaking as the special guest, Law Adviser Mainul said the expected result of the right to information act cannot be attained without capacity building of the government in providing information.
"It's not possible to make the administration competent overnight for providing information as required," he observed.
The journalists' responsibility will turn greater as soon as the act is promulgated, he said, adding that they should be prepared to use information keeping in mind the public interests and national security.
"It's not enough to only know information; rather they should have adequate skill, political spirit and judgement while using the information."
Dr Shamsul Bari in his keynote speech said the goal of the right to information act is to compel the authorities to provide information for public interest.
The Official Secrets Act was promulgated by the British rulers during their colonial rule as they treated the people of this land as their subjects, he added.
"We are no more subjects, we are citizens. So, information is our right, not need." Involvement of people, especially the politicians and officials, is very important and there should be measures in this regard, he added.
Launch of the practice for making public-interest documents open is very important, Dr Bari said, adding exemptions are however listed in the draft act and must be followed.
Advocate Sultana Kamal, former adviser to a caretaker government, said information is power and when power is gripped by a certain quarter, many others are deprived of it, which cannot go with democracy.
Voting is only a single way of participation in democracy, but people need more participation for sustainability of democracy, she said, adding "We want to know the government decisions and the deals it signs [with other countries and companies]."
In her welcome speech, MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said the right to information act, once promulgated, will provide opportunity for all to take part in public affairs and ensure transparency and accountability of the authorities' dealings with public matters.
She regretted that the local level people never have a chance to raise questions on funds for development projects and the way those are spent.
Not only the government, but also private sector and NGOs should come under the purview of the act (draft), which is now being reviewed by the ministries of information and law, she observed.
Date Posted: 12/6/2007