Right to Know

Published by The News Today on 27th September, 2016 (Link Above)

September 28 is celebrated internationally as the Right to Know Day, highlighting the importance of citizens’ right to access information held by their governments to ensure transparency and accountability of government in order to strengthen democracy for the welfare of people at large in a true sense. The International Right to Know Day was first observed on September 28, 2002 at the Freedom of Information litigation conference in Sofia, Bulgaria to raise awareness about citizen’s right to access government information. On International Right to Know Day activists all around the world organize various events to create awareness amongst the people about the importance of freedom of information which is an essential tool for both democracy and good governance. The freedom of information or right of access to information is an important human right and an indispensable part to the enjoyment of our freedom. The right of access to information ensures the participation of the public in formulating social policies and in the decision-making processes of governance. In Bangladesh, the Right to Information is derived from our fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by our constitution. We cannot express any informed opinion, unless we have information on how the government and public bodies function. Right to Information Act 2009, was enacted in the Parliament on 29 March 2009 and this came into force on 1 July, 2009. Right to Information Act, 2009 is a big step towards making the citizens of our country informed about the policies and actions of the Government. This can be described as a milestone in the evolution of new era in the legal history of Bangladesh. As per Section 2 of the Right to Information Act 2009 (RIT Act 2009), “information means documentary material in relation to an authority’s constitution, structure and official activities and includes: memo, book, design, map, contract, data, log book, order, notification, document, sample, letter, report, accounts statement, project proposal, photograph, audio, video, drawing, film, any instrument prepared through electronic process, machine readable documents and any other documentary material regardless of its physical form or characteristics.” However, information does not include office note sheet or photocopies of note sheets. Every Authority or Information Providing Unit is bound to provide anyone with any Information which falls within the definition of Information provided that the said person has followed the procedure prescribed by the law. Section 4 of the RIT Act 2009 provides that every citizen has a right to information from the Authority and the Authority shall on demand from a citizen be bound to provide information. Section 2 of the Act and provides the list of authorities that are under an obligation to disclose information upon request of an applicant and their respective information providing unit, are as follows: Any organisation/institution constituted in accordance with the constitution of People’s Republic of Bangladesh; any ministry, division or office constituted under the Rules of Business as given in Article 55(6) of the Constitution, any statutory body or institution established by or under any Act, any private organization or institutions run on government funding or with help from the government exchequer, any private organization or institutions run on foreign funding, any organisations or institution that undertakes public functions in accordance with any contract made on behalf of the Government or made with any public organization or institution, any other organisation or institution as may be notified by the Government in the official gazette from time to time. Every Authority shall have an Information Providing Unit and these are: the head office, divisional office, regional office, district office or sub-district (Upazila) office of any department, directorate or office attached to or under any ministry, division or office of the government. The head office, divisional office, regional office, district office or sub-district (Upazila) office of an authority. There are 20 exemptions listed in Section 2 of the Act. None of these authorities will be obliged to give the citizens the following information: information relating to state security; international relations; commercial secrets and intellectual property rights; tax and budget information; law enforcement; judicial activities; investigations; privacy; “secret information” of a private person; life or physical safety of individuals; and others. Section 9 of the Act provides partial access to information which states that no request may be fully rejected if it is reasonably possible to allow access to non-exempt portions of requested information. Section 32 and Schedule of the Act excludes the following organizations and institutions involved with national security and intelligence from the scope of RTI Act: National Security Intelligence (NSI), Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), Defence Intelligence Units, Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Bangladesh Police, Special Security Force (SSF), Intelligence Cell of the National Board of Revenue, Special Branch, Bangladesh Police, Intelligence Cell of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). The number of institutions mentioned in the list above can be amended by the Government in consultation with the Information Commission from time to time by notification published in the government gazette. Information relating to corruption and human rights must be provided. If a request for such information is received, then the concerned organization or institution must give the information, subject to the approval of the Information Commission within 30 days from the date of receiving the request. Information Commission set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorized body of Government to act upon complaints from those individuals, who have not been able to submit information requests to an authority or refused to receive the application for information or was given false, incomplete or misleading information etc. under the RTI Act. There is a website of information commission where the detailed guidelines have been given for the citizens who wants any information or wants to lodge a complaint. The RTI Act prescribes fines for officials who fail their duty to justify the refusal, to decide upon the request in due time, to give misleading or false information or who create impediments to the right to information. Section 8 of the Act has laid down the procedure to obtain information. A Citizen has to apply in writing either physically or electronically or by e-mail to the concerned office. In the application, the applicant has to include the following information: name, address, and where applicable contact number and email address of the applicant, correct and clear description of the information sought, any other useful and related information that may help to locate the information, description of the mode of receiving the information sought, namely by inspection, taking photo copies, taking notes or any other approved methods. The Information request shall be made either in the printed form (Form A) or in the prescribed format. However, if the forms are not printed or are not easily available or the format has not been prescribed, then the application can be written on a plain white paper by giving all the information mentioned above or can be sent through electronically or by e-mail. An acknowledgement receipt needs to be collected for future reference. Under the existing RTI Act, 2009, if any person does not get the information sought by him, he may prefer an appeal against the concerned authority. Under section 13(E) of the RTI Act, 2009, if any concerned officer provides any false, incomplete or misleading information to the applicant, the concerned officer will be penalized under section 27(D) and (E) of the RTI Act 2009. Information commission can also recommend taking departmental action against the concerned responsible officer. ‘Knowledge is power’ is a popular saying. No great result can be achieved without acquiring knowledge. Knowledge empowers people to achieve great results. Knowledge comes from information. The more information a person gains, the more knowledgeable he becomes. Without information, citizens cannot adequately exercise their rights or make informed choices. The right to information has been recognized as a fundamental human right granting ordinary citizens the legal right to access information and thereby bringing transparency in the otherwise opaque functioning of government. There are many citizens who are not even aware of their fundamental rights of information which enable them to make informed decision. We have to educate our citizen about the RTI Act, 2009 so that people can make the best use of the law effectively by pursuing the Act to tackle corruption and bring greater transparency and accountability in the government body.