The RTI debate in Bhutan: premature?

Power point presentation on RTI to the NC by Sangay Khandu

Is the RTI debate too soon for Bhutan, that is if we really ever had a debate on it.

Many may probably say yes but there are others who feel, it is as good a time as any to debate it. While not many would refute it’s importance in democratizing governance, the concern really for many with whom I have spoken or interacted with, who have expressed reservations, seem to be one revolving around unpreparedness as a society. As I have already shared my thoughts on it several times, I will like to make an attempt at making a short opinion once again.

It has been my experience through these four years in office that every parliamentary session and for that matter, almost each plenary of the National Council sitting, issues raised and discussed ranged from delayed land compensation to poor public service delivery, to inaccessibility to certain information or absence of good and meaningful information, from poor accountability to non-uniform application of laws and rules and found a resounding consensus that our good governance initiatives needed strengthening. Interactions in public too found overlap with many of these issues, all pin-pointing towards seeking and demanding better accountability. I do not find any disagreement here, or atleast that’s how I feel. That is one of the primary reasons for my proposal for a debate in the National Council on RTI.

A view, perhaps of which a debate is become even more important is that, is it, as a society too early for Bhutan to debate RTI or consider enacting a RTI legislation? I believe this is a very important question put forth for consideration. After all, the RTI law has to be driven  by us Bhutanese for it to really effect change, it will not, like many other laws, act on its own. So are we ready?

Is there a demand? Will RTI become just another law?

Many issues concerning transparency and accountability as I read it, is indicative of the need for RTI. For further understanding, a consultative process is due and could be undertaken to further enrich the debate if we were to agree on a debate. But news of reports with potential to bring out the truth to start an honest discussion not coming out in public, I would think, without grassroots calling for it, could be a logical demand for more transparency. This is one of the primary reasons on which I base the need for such a debate to happen. Unlike laws which need agencies to come out and act, RTI will see the public come forth and use the law and by public I mean individuals, groups of individuals and the news media. It will drive the process forward and seek implementation in the process. So with greater awareness of the law that would begin with the initiation of the debate and other consistent efforts, it may see progressive usage with an increasing civic engagement, bringing people into more contact with decisions. This I feel also is an important component of our greater aim of becoming a vibrant democracy and it is in our interest to cultivate and further a culture of democracy.

No additional process in creating information for RTI

As far as information is concerned, each time a decision is made affecting lives, an important piece of information is created and stored somewhere even today without RTI. So to produce information for seekers as a result of RTI would not result in the creation of any new information. It has simply to do with providing it to the public.

 Will seats of power like RTI?

Generally the answer is quite the obvious.

I believe we are ready for this important debate. Some may think its a bit too early and others may strongly believe it is time but I think without a debate, we can never really know if we are here. A parliamentary debate is ideal but a public debate, to see what we think of it as a society is critical too. As parliament considers it, there is nothing to hold back a debate in public on this important aspect of good governance. This is not to indicate a retiring effort but to encourage more engagement so that in the end, more Bhutanese become part of this on-going consideration.


About Sangay Khandu

Elected to Parliament of Bhutan twice. Previously worked with the Central Bank, the largest SoE (power utility) and international organization.
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3 Responses to The RTI debate in Bhutan: premature?

  1. Chencho says:

    For those of the view that the Bhutanese Society is not ready for RTI, I would like to know what are the systems and structures or perhaps the level of maturity that is needed for a Society to be ready for RTI.? Importantly, are these really difficult to be put in place or be achieved to deserve a delay in having a RTI Act?

    I think now is as good a time as any. A small society like ours needs transparency and accountability, i feel its paramount for our sovereignty and perhaps also an important way of achieving contentment and thus happiness. The strong grape wine and the small society bring out many weird rumors and information, which i believe is slowly eating away the fabric of our society. A RTI would certainly help reduce such speculations and lay to rest many such rumors.

    Education and awareness would be key to the success of the RTI Act if it is implemented. This being done, I think we are ready as any society in embracing RTI.

    Getting the Act endorsed is a people problem like in many cases. If our parliament is capable of endorsing a draconian act like the Tobacco Control Act, a well intentioned and noble Act like RTI should not be a issue at all. My personal opinion in that a master tactician would be needed to garner enough support for the Act. The issues you have in hand are
    i) that of a Government who has promised the people to give the RTI Act but it is being introduced as an private bill. So, a thought should be there on giving all credit to the Government for it.
    ii) That of the usual human sentiment of jealousy in seeing somebody doing better than others. Important aspect.
    iii) The fact that people want to be consulted and opinions sought from, preferably in person.

    Personally, I feel there are enough neutral people in a group of 25 ppl to be able to garner support from atleast 13.

  2. Thinley says:

    Are you suggesting that the Tobacco Control Act was/is not well-intentioned?

  3. sonam dorji says:

    I pray to NC and all law makers of my country, not to prolonog its debate. yes i accept there are many opinions as to freedom of information and there should be in any democratic institution.

    but why can’t our NC be responsive enough to discuss on integral part of our freedom? we don’t want silly answers that you all are busy with all other matters of great importance such as land issues etc,.

    infact, there is nothing more important than FREEDOM.the history has elucidated that point. neither are we ignorant of present scenario. people have given up their lives in the name of freedom.
    so honourable NCs and MPs are u there to do this extra home work in the name of honour?

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