Having a right and using a right is quite different – Proposed RTI Bill

Earlier today I submitted the draft bill on Right to Information to the Honorable Chairperson of the National Council with the objective of fulfilling a constitutional provision articulated under article 7 which states right to information as a fundamental right of every Bhutanese citizen. While the constitution provides for such a right, a legislation to ensure such a right prevails, as with many other laws that flow from constitutional provisions, is only a natural progression of processes.

Secondly, in adherence to our developmental philosophy of Gross National Happiness where good governance cross cuts the three other pillars, it will contribute greatly in the enhancement of transparency and accountability. In the end, it will contribute in creating a democratic culture of seeking accountability on the part of both the governing and the governed, to be informed and take part in decision making process to take the country forward.

Thirdly, through this legislation I hope it brings change to the way we document and manage information. These information tell us about our society and how we function; its a piece of history that we owe to our future generation to understand us in the past.

I am sharing the draft RTI Bill here so that as many Bhutanese can be engaged in the law-making process by soliciting feedback, comments and contributions before putting the final form of the draft on the floor of the House. I believe this will greatly benefit in giving shape to a draft that befits debate in Parliament and reflects societal impressions.

I look forward to your support. For access to full bill, both Dzongkha and English you may click on the link provided below:

English Version of the draft RTI Bill

Dzongkha Version of the draft RTI Bill

For others I will leave you with the gist of the proposed draft.

  • Types of information that can accessed through the proposed legislation:

“Information” means information in the possession, custody or control of an office, including information to which an office has access in connection with its functions; and which includes but not limited to information in documentary or other recorded form, whether stored, maintained or utilized as writing, drawing, electronic media, photographic image, film image, video image, sound transcription, physical object, or otherwise, including administrative decision records, documents, memoranda, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, and models;

  •  Who does it apply to:

The Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary, a ministry, a department, a commission, a council, an executive agency, a nationalized industry, a public corporation or other entity established by law, including a corporate body or agency owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Royal Government, a non-government organization financed, directly or indirectly, by the Royal Government and corporations with public money.

  • Exemptions:

Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of Bhutan, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence;

Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament;

Information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;

Information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;

Information received in confidence from foreign Government;

Information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes;

Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers: Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over: Provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed;

Disclosure of the information is prohibited by order of a Court;

The information is of a personal nature, with no relationship to any public activity or interest, or is of a personal nature and its disclosure would cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy; Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament shall not be denied to any person.

Disclosure of the information would infringe a patent, copyright, trademark or other protected intellectual property right; or

The information is in the possession, custody or control of an office on the condition, whether by explicit agreement or because of the intrinsic nature of the information, that the information will not be disclosed without the consent of a person who is not a party to the request for information. However, information being older than 20 years and/or information related to corruption can be obtained. 

  • Responsible Office:

Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Authority

  • Initial time frame for providing information:

30 days

  • Final Appeal

High Court as per Civil and Criminal Procedure Code

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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, Legislation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Having a right and using a right is quite different – Proposed RTI Bill

  1. Kuenzang says:

    i think RTI, as it stands looks very comprehensive………..

    Good work……

  2. Pema Dhendup says:

    Sir,
    I am a simple public servant just now. But even as I visualize myself to be on the other side, I could not be convinced on why we must have this Act immediately. While media had presented all the good sides of the Right to Information Act in detail, which is understandable, allow me to humbly discuss the other side of RTI because, as a concerned citizen, I believe that in order to have something new in our system, it is always wise to discuss the pros and cons, good and bad in equal proportion, viualizing the situations without getting carried away.

    A typical tendency is growing in our country driven by media, and that is, to be conscious, more and more about rights, and not the corresponding obligation. Someone smartly remarked that “If every citizen feels that he is endowed with the right to question, but is not under obligation to answer, a stage may reach where the comparatively small number of persons, who are being questioned, may join the team of those who choose, just to question. If that happens, the society may face a situation, where it would become difficult to expect answers.”

    The big question is, are we actually ready for this Act at this juncture?

    Our neighboring country India gained independence in 1947. However, it took them 58 years to introduce Right to Information Act in the year 2005 with the noble intention to provide access to information to the people in order to promote transparency and accountability, which was hitherto kept away from the general public under Official Secrets Act 1923. We do not have any such Secrets Act to cover the transparency and accountability. Further, unlike India where Personal Income Tax forms a major chunk of the country’s revenue, ours is almost a welfare state with Government spoon feeding us and taking care of our needs right from free education to free medical services, etc. To demand the right to question the hands that feed us, clothe us, educate us and take care of all our needs is not the urgency of the day. Instead, we need to earn that right by being a contributing member of the country’s growth. We can become contributing members when we understand and carry out our responsibilities as enshrined in the Constitution first, not the other way round. People who barks so much on the Rights would be the first to shy away from responsibilities. Let us all talk about our individual responsibilities first and carry out mass campaigns to make people more aware of responsibilities that needs to be shouldered. Only when we know our responsibilities and carry them out with our heart and soul, then, we are ready for our Rights.

    Secondly, in our country, Personal Income Tax and Business Income Tax, Land Tax, House Tax rates, etc, which are among the lowest in the world, should be raised so that our individual contribution to the country’s growth is substantial. We are largely a donor dependent country with negligible contribution from the citizen’s side to the national exchequer. We must inculcate in the citizens a sense of involvement in the development process through taxpaying culture and NOT only through Right to Question because only when people pay substantial direct taxes, we can hold the authorities accountable, which is to say that we can expect a functioning democracy. As of now, with PIT forming only a minuscule 9-10% of the govt revenue (correct me if I am wrong), and 100% of capital expenditures of the govt being met out of donor funds, RTI Act would amount to allowing people to put their hands into other people’s pockets and searching them. We have the controlling bodies like the RAA and ACC for that. Only when we, as individual citizens, have a substantial share in the country’s revenue that drives the economic growth, can we safely say that, we now have the Right to question and demand information.

    After all the above steps are taken care of, we must then prepare the administration for implementation of RTI. We must make it obligatory on all public offices to maintain all its records and ensure its computerization and connect through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated.

    However, the ground realities as of now are quite different. We are hyping about RTI when it is well known that in most of the public offices, computerization of records are not yet done, required men and machinery is not available, hue and cry is made about manpower constraints in the government departments. That means government is pulling up with limited resources. In this scenario, one can guess as to what extent the Information Officers, designated under the Act can comply with the provisions of the Act in letter and spirit by attending to their usual duties simultaneously. Attending to each and every application received under the Act will certainly be time consuming and eat away the limited and precious resources available for public administration. Shedding away the main duties and responsibilities for which the personnel were appointed, for the purpose of responding to all the sundry applications received under RTI Act will not at all be a healthy trend. On the other hand, it will certainly have bad impact on the already crippled administration with limited resources, and we cannot expect public offices to deliver effective services to the common men. Precious resources including men, money and machinery would be utilized to trace, collect and furnish the information at the cost of usual duties to be discharged. Media, already enthusiastic at the proposed rights, would obviously wave the RTI Act in the air and hound public offices demanding information to make up the contents of their breaking news in order to sell their papers. All these would be at whose cost? Obviously at Government’s exchequer! I can also foresee ample scope for misuse of the act by habitual complainants and greedy persons resorting to blackmail to achieve their illegitimate demands, by way of harassment of the public authorities under the guise of this Act. The result would be a bunch of public servants with low morale and no charm in taking initiatives for further growth. This would truly be disastrous for the country!

    It is important to ensure that RTI Act should not become an alternate for the wastage of crucial public resources, otherwise, the resultant injury will be irreparable. We need to address this by imparting a sense of responsibility on those, who want to derive benefit under the Act to be more practical and realistic. However, going by the present trend and enthusiasm for exercising Rights, the big question is, are we ready to be practical and realistic?

    Let us go slowly, one step at a time. Let us learn to become more responsible first. Otherwise, the Right to Information Act is going to become a Nuisance Act!

    Thank you very much for allwing me to share my thoughts as a humble citizen.

  3. Dear Pema,

    Thank you for your comment and I could not agree more with you when you said that we must discuss the pros and cons of anything new we may consider adopting. I strongly believe that and therefore, the primary reason for my effort in bringing out the draft in public domain has been to jump start a process of public discussion well ahead of a parliamentary debate. I believe that in a democracy alternate viewpoints matter because our views differ with our varying experiences. There must always be enough space for these differences to contribute constructively to the greater objective and above all, respect these differing view points. I take great pleasure in trying to share my own thoughts as I enjoyed reading yours, as a public servant from the pool that you and I come from.

    For these reasons, I greatly value your very sincere thoughts on the other side of RTI and look forward to your continued contribution in this and other discussions of public interest.

    Citizenship is at the core of the discussion and corresponding rights and duties. The act of seeking an answer from an authority is as much a duty as it is a right. It is principally based on the idea of social justice. We can not let the simple notion of democracy being only casting of votes periodically prevail. And in turn we must also understand an authority too reserves the right to seek answers from a citizen through various laws. Breaches and violations may tantamount to crime against the State and maybe punishable. Questions must be asked and answers must be provided. Everyone should be made accountable and if there is consensus on this we may find ourselves less against the inhibitions of an apparently intrusive law.

    It is true that our tax paying culture desires far more compliance and also possibly re-consideration of taxes as a whole, but as little as it may be we do pay taxes. Whether we should pay more or not is something that the Government should decide and the Parliament could support. There is no denying it is an important duty that each one of us must fulfill. But simply questioning a right to seek answers based on contribution from citizens to the national exchequer being meagre does not seem to settle too well with the idea of democracy. There are facets of contribution in the nature of national resources that belong to the State and therefore its citizens. It was a welcome news to hear the Hon’ble Prime Minister declare his desire to include social costs in the national accounts. This indicates his subscription to the idea of social accounting; being transparent for the reasons stated above. These social costs have direct bearing on citizens and therefore also legitimizes their desire to seek answers. I do not intend on elaborating further but it is simply to say that there are aspects of citizenry that can not be quantified in revenue contribution to link to a right.

    Computerization and human resource preparedness is critical and I can not see it happening any other way. Here I want to talk about something from a while back. I remember hearing about e-governance when I was still in college and we are still talking about it. The point is, can we wait till we have a system ready to bring in a law or should we not consider bringing in a law that would bring a sharper focus on these systemic needs to facilitate this critical shift? I believe this legislation will bring that change we have all been talking about.

    Implementation of each law requires resources and RTI would not be an exception. While some may see resources spent in implementing RTI law as a waste because of misuse, I tend to focus more on the positive impact it would bring in the long run. By reducing inefficiency and curbing corruption, implementation of RTI law could more than justify resources spent and inculcate a culture of good governance. It must however be understood that if authorities should take a more proactive disclosure approach, citizens seeking information would be greatly reduced. It should be the natural progression of governance where citizens would not have to apply to seek information but be available for citizens to look it up. Being able to do that would mean greater access and complimented with awareness building initiatives, citizens could be made to understand duties along with rights. The benefits of having a RTI law far outweigh the disadvantages of not having one.

  4. Caesar says:

    @ Pema Dhendup has put up a strong argument. Is there anyone who wants to debate on what he say? I am happy with your post Pema and keep contributing to such healthy debate.
    I completely agree when he say “To demand the right to question the hands that feed us, clothe us, educate us and take care of all our needs is not the urgency of the day.”
    I strongly believe and agree that the debate should begin from the fundamentals – the responsibilities. Our MPs and the Media should engage the country in a debate that would help nourish our democracy and GNH. I specifically stress the need to understand our responsibilities in enhacing our revenue, creating employment and curbing poverty and so many other social ills.
    Please forget the RTI for the timebeing. We have RAA and ACC and the Judicial system functioning well. The media has also been doing very well. Let us not rush.

  5. Caesar says:

    Honorable Dasho,

    I see that you agree on the need to increase tax and I notice that you are frustrated with not having “computarization and HR preparedness”, vital for the task. You also agree that “the government should decide and the parliament could support”. But then, who is the government and who makes the parliement?

    Therefore, I sincerely appeal you to focus your efforts on revamping such fundamental issues first. Dont you think that the RTI could wait for the timebeing?

  6. Baap says:

    How can transparency, an important feature of good governance, be ensured? The answer is simple without beating about the bush. It can be ensured if citizens have right to know how development activities are planned and implemented, how tax money are spent, how justices are dispensed by courts, how donor funds are used, how rich and powerful acquire their wealth, how business contracts are awarded, how tender or procurement systems are implemented, how government officials are appointed etc. etc.. At present disclosure of information is done under some form of compulsion, or as part of forced service, and it can be withhold if concerned agencies are not willing to do so. If there is RTI Act every citizen has right to seek information and every government agencies, private sectors, or corporation are obliged to divulge information regardless of whether information is trivial or otherwise in nature. We may spend time arguing pros and cons of such ACT, but in the final analysis right to know and fixing accountability is the essential component of democratic norms.

    Cheers

  7. Sonam says:

    Dear Dasho and the rest,
    I am humbled by the good intentions and great work dasho has done to bring this RTI Bill.

    I am sure that the Bill will definitely ensure right to information and also creating better transparency.

    However, the fundamental question if I may ask is the implementation of the Act. There are numerous Act (Tenancy Act, Road Act etc) which are never implemented and has remained paper tiger as media states.

    Will this Act be not one of those. I say that because any Act that impact the rich and powerful people does not seem to get implemented the way it was intended to. The best example is Tenancy Act, how owns houses, the power and rich, who decides and makes policies to implement acts, the powerful people, so I am bit worried about that.

    Otherwise, this is perfect Bill

  8. Sonam Jatso says:

    Thank you, la.

    This is a valuable gift and service to our nation and our people. This will be a gift that will keep giving for all times to come.

    In the long run, this will save our democracy and our nation’s future.

    Thank you for your leadership and service to our nation and our people. If you have any group discussion or brainstorming session on RTI and/or any other national issues, I’ll be happy to take part in it.

  9. Sonam Jatso says:

    Thank you, la.

    This is a valuable gift and service to our nation and our people. This will be a gift that will keep giving for all time to come.

    In the long run, this will save our democracy and our nation’s future.

    Thank you for your leadership and service to our nation and our people. If you have any group discussion or brainstorming session on RTI and/or any other national issues, I’ll be happy to take part in it.

  10. Sangay says:

    “To demand the right to question the hands that feed us, clothe us, educate us and take care of all our needs is not the urgency of the day.”

    I am saddened to read that there are still educated and knowledgeable citizens who still adhere to the thought of the hand that feeds us crap.

    I am thankful and grateful to all the services that have been provided to all bhutanese, but we have to understand that this is a two way street, why do receive all these grants??? its coming for the Bhutanese populous and although this source of fund is not directly associated with our tax base, yet the money is coming in because of the country and for its citizens, thus requiring for the right to know what, how and when these funds are utilized.

    I personally feel that RTI is a building block to ensure that the pillars which form the skeletal framework of any democracy are guided by the needs and demands of the public.

    Good Luck and i hope your endeavor succeeds for the benefit of the citizens of the country.

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