Perspective on Right to Information & Bhutan: working towards a vibrant democracy [part 2]

[..in continuation to part 1]

The supply side

Proactive reporting by the Royal Government

The Royal Government publishes and shares annual reports of all its agencies in addition to the state of the nation address by the Honorable Prime Minister to the Parliament broadcast live on television and radio. Additionally, constitutional bodies like the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Royal Audit Authority too publish annual reports. These reports generally contain information related to structure, work, expenditure and plans. Reports are also made available on the respective websites for anyone to view and download. Information on tenders, job vacancies are also made public.

Interaction with the news media

The Royal Government in addition to routine access, meets regularly with journalists once every month. This interactive session called ‘meet the press’. was started by the Royal Government after coming into power to allow journalists to seek responses to questions they may have. While this has been a welcome development, it caters to primarily to news media and journalists. This is a demonstration of how RTI in Bhutan like in some other countries, has been related and associated to freedom of press and less of a right of each and every Bhutanese citizen.

Grievance cell with the PMO

Bhutanese with grievances can also approach the Prime Minister’s Office for redressal. However, I am not aware of any grievances related to access to information that has been lodged with the office so far other than one reported as having been received in a recent editorial by a newspaper.

Absence of a transparent information sharing procedure

There are no known transparent procedures and processes other than using the ones published (which may not satisfy users most times) for public seeking information. In this absence, many continue to use information received from agencies, it leads one to believe that people use connections, family, friends, known contacts, acquaintances  to obtain these information. While most of these information sharing may not qualify for as insider-trading or corruption, but it also clearly shows the lack of fairness in the way information can be obtained. There is a clear existence of information asymmetry which needs to be corrected.

Records

Most information and records that agencies keep may differ in format and most certainly in non-electronic form. This makes it difficult to share these information quickly when requested because it would involve physically searching through files and folders to locate a certain piece of information. It is also known that the previous Royal Government had plans on e-governance and the current Government has initiated ‘the chiphen rigphel’ project to educate and senstive all leaders and civil servants on ICT to enable them to maximize its use. Often referred to as e-government, back end application to help speed processes relatively has already been done in various Government offices and with the launch of several G2C services, some public services have reached a more advanced stage. This however, does not at this stage does not include digitization of information and will be another crucial part of the efforts. Meanwhile, simultaneously it should be the effort of the Government to shift to a ‘paper-less’ office approach so that we do not have to look back one day and exercise a process of digitization which would be very expensive again.

The demand side

Literacy and illiteracy of the people

General illiteracy, media illiteracy and legal/legislative illiteracy has been a serious hindrance in the realization of the RTI as a fundamental right of every Bhutanese citizen. Illiteracy among the rural Bhutanese who make up the majority of the population remains the highest challenge although there has been notable improvement with the Royal Government’s NFE initiative with recent pilot study with daycare centres for studying mothers. Consequently many contestants in the recent local government elections showed benefits from this initiative. However, most still remain outside of the programme and leaves much to be desired. This problem maybe inherent as farmers spend more time farming, leaving only a few available to attend NFE schooling. Even among the literate, media literacy still may need more understanding and quite evident is legislative/legal illiteracy; many still do not understand more basic laws.

News media and Journalists

Many in the news media are not experienced and trained in investigative journalism. They view RTI from the point of freedom of press rather than a right of individual Bhutanese citizen, evident in a few articles that may have mentioned RTI in anyway. A few experienced investigative journalists have used sources to bring out stories and therefore, perhaps may have led to less enthusiasm in creating awareness on this important aspect of democracy, atleast not to the desired extent.

Civil Society Organizations(CSOs)  and Non-Governmental Organizations(NGOs)

A few CSOs have been involved with raising awareness on media literacy, organizing events to promote public debate and training invididuals to promote citizen journalism. These efforts have also contributed in building awareness about media and information dissemination but RTI has not been the primary focus and therefore, have not been able to bring enough debate on it.

The way forward

In my opinion, significant investment will need to be made into a proper, RTI regime friendly formating of all information. Shifting to a paper-less office and introduction of a robust file indexing system so that all files can be tracked is also important. An efficient information indexing and digitization capacity, both technological and human resource would be most meainingful and timely for Bhutan at this juncture.

Simultaneously, awareness and education on RTI needs to happen so that users understand what RTI is for each segment of the Bhutanese population. There needs to be support for law-makers, civil servants and journalists to understand RTI at a deeper level for both short term as well as long term interest.

Support to the rural and illiterate Bhutanese in the form of making RTI usage a reality needs to be thought out and planned for the mid term.

A RTI legislation will need to be enacted to bring about the empowerment of the people. While some may argue that there may not be significant users, having a right and and using a right is quite different.

Conclusion

Ultimately a vibrant democracy is one in which the citizenry engages in its own governance through informed participation in decision-making. It does not have to be limited to periodic elections alone. Neither does it have to pertain to only elected public offices. In ensuring transparency and hence, accountability, every organization that uses public money, directly or indirectly, or benefits from the State and is in the business of providing services to the people, should be under obligation to be transparent. Transparency is key to good governance. In conclusion my brief assessment of what is happening and what may need to be done to bring a greater degree of public engagement and focus on informed participatory democratic culture in Bhutan, may have failed to capture other important aspects for a case for a more transparent and accountable information sharing regime in Bhutan. I assure you, this does not in anyway undermine the intend and purpose to enable empowerment of the citizenry as the Bhutanese constitution has envisioned so clearly as the fundamental right.

Note: Please supportRTI here https://www.facebook.com/pages/RTI-in-Bhutan-Towards-an-Empowered-Citizenry/357872050892063

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About Sangay Khandu

Sangay Khandu is a Member of Parliament, serving his 2nd term representing the people of Gasa Dzongkhag to the National Council.
This entry was posted in Good Governance and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Perspective on Right to Information & Bhutan: working towards a vibrant democracy [part 2]

  1. Kuenzang says:

    “There is a clear existence of information asymmetry which needs to be corrected.”

    I think it is very rampant in our society. So I would like to know what are the measures being taken or will be taken to curb this la?

    Or is it still under discussion??

  2. Kuenzang says:

    Dasho,

    I risk being stupid here but, I really wanted to know that in our country, what constitutes “sensitive information” and what constitutes “not so sensitive information”

    please enlighten me…..

    and is writing a letter to my MP, to whom I have placed my faith, in my capacity as civil servant a “Sensitive thing” ?

    • Thank you Kuenzang for your comments.

      A sense of arbitrariness probably is the reason which has made it so complex and difficult for many of our civil servants to be more open. I believe what we need to do is to define and classify information so that we can move in the direction of an open governance & Government.

      Information asymmetry is a problem but it has not received enough focus yet. Some of us have tried to start a debate on it in a general sense already. Expecting a more serious debate very soon!

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