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Implementation of Nepal RTI Law Called Unsatisfactory

last modified Aug 30, 2011 12:00 AM

Source: Freedominfo.org

Date: 30 August 2011

By Tanka Raj Aryal

Aryal is Executive Director, Citizens’ Campaign for RTI

Despite the legal and institutional setup‚ the implementation status of RTI is not satisfactory. Many public agencies have not appointed information officers; and where they have been‚ they are without the necessary training‚ capacity and resources. Capacity and orientation of the information officer have very important role.

Right to information (RTI) is acknowledged as a vibrant tool for promoting good governance; particularly accountability and transparency, as well as an essential element for functional democracy. Lack of information impedes citizens’ ability to assess the decisions of their leaders, and even to make informed choices about the individuals they elect to serve as their representatives. Without right to information democracy is incomplete, thus, RTI is considered as the oxygen for democracy.

Right to information was guaranteed as a fundamental right in Nepal in 1990 along with the reestablishment of democracy. Article 27 of the Interim Constitution 2007 has also made the provision for the protection of right to information as a fundamental right. However, it was not exercised effectively due to the lack of implementing legislation, until the Right to Information Act was passed, which was a breakthrough on legal protection of RTI and its implementation.

We have already completed four year with Right to Information Act 2007. How the concerned stakeholders, including Nepal Government and National Information Commission (NIC) played their role for the protection and promotion of RTI is crucial to assess in this regard. This assessment will help in working more effectively for better protection of right to information in the coming days by analyzing and evaluating the weaknesses and strengths of responsible agencies.

To facilitate the execution of the RTI Act 2007, the cabinet passed the RTI Regulation in February 2009. The government established an independent oversight body, National Information Commission, in May 2008. And pursuant to the Section 3 and 27 of the Act, the information classification is made for the protection of sensitive and important information by the Classification Committee in 2009. These are the some initiations taken by the government for the effectiveness of the RTI Act.

Agencies Fail to Make Appointments

Despite the legal and institutional setup, the implementation status of RTI is not satisfactory. Many public agencies have not appointed information officers; and where they have been, they are without the necessary training, capacity and resources. Capacity and orientation of the information officer have very important role for effective implementation of RTI Act, but which is totally lacking. Pursuant to Section 4 and 5 of the Act, public agencies have to update and disclose information on a routine basis, however, this obligation has not been fulfilled.

Though the law defines the political party and NGO as Public Agency and requires for proactive disclosure of the information regarding their organization, none of the political parties have appointed public information officers and make routine disclosure of the information according to the Act.

Similarly, NGOs have neither followed the RTI law nor contributing to promote this law despite clear legal obligation. The citizens, who are the real consumers of information, do not seem to have adequate awareness to exercise their right to information.

Commission Needs Support

The NIC has been without the secretary and staffs most of the time.

However, NIC decision on some cases establishing right to information in Nepal has crucial importance. The decision with order to provide information to the citizen on Exam Answer sheet case, Kapilvastu Probe Commission Report cases, Report of the Probe Commission of JP Joishi Murder Case are significant. The Supreme Court of Nepal has also endorsed the decision of NIC regarding the Exam Answer Sheet Case where student were allowed to get the attested copy of the exam answer sheet under right to information.

However, NIC is really weak on the proactive role as regards promotional activities and negotiation with Nepal Government for necessary setup and intervention for effective implementation of RTI laws.

Higher Priority Needed

Very recently, the government has decided to develop RTI unit within the Prime Minister’s Office to monitor and provide necessary support to the public agencies for RTI implementation. Just making legal instrumenst and institutional set up is not the fulfillment of the obligation of government for implementing RTI, to make those legal and institutional set functional is also a major responsibility.

In the last four years, the issue of RTI did not receive priority from the government, NGOs and donor community. The act was adopted during political transition, where the priority focused on peace-building, constitution-making, state-restructuring, inclusion and others. There is still a lack of understanding about RTI as a separate discipline.

Public access to government-held information allows individuals to better understand the role of the government, and the decisions being made on their behalf. With an informed citizenry, governments can be held accountable for their policies, and citizens can more effectively choose their representatives. Equally important, right to information laws can be used to improve the lives of people as they request information relating to health care, education, and other public services.