Thursday, September 16, 2010

Should RTI Act be introduced in Bhutan?

Tshering P. Dorji

Information as a term means giving shape to something and forming a pattern, respectively. It means adding something new to our awareness and removing the vagueness of our ideas.

“Information is a necessity”, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley said. However, Lyonchhen said, “I cannot say if the Right To Information (RTI) Act is needed in our country at this point of time. Thus far, what ever information, whether it’s to media or to any organisation, government has not withheld any information that is required by the public to know”.

Lyonchhen further said, “RTI is not yet a priority because the information is still available. We have got so many Bills that are urgent and needs to be enacted. The Parliament is required to enact these Bills as per the constitution”.

According to Karma Gyeltshen, a civil servant, information is power these days. To share this power is empowering the weakest sections of the society. “It is precisely because of this reason that the Right to Information has been ensured by some developed countries elsewhere,” he said.

While most of the civil servants and media professionals I interviewed had mixed feelings about introducing RTI in the country, the managing editor of Bhutan Observer, Needup Zangpo, said that RTI is one of the central pillars of democracy and that, “If not now, sometime in the future, it should be introduced in the country”. He added that with democracy in the country, the introduction of RTI in the country has become “inevitable”. He pointed out that the government at this juncture “does not feel the need though”.

He added that information is indispensable for the functioning of a true democracy. People have to be kept informed about current affairs and broad issues whether it is political, social or economic. “Free exchange of ideas and free debates are essentially desirable for the government of a democratic country,” he said.

Tenzin Rigden, the editor in chief of Bhutan Today and the former press secretary to the Prime Minister opinions that RTI as of now is not needed. “In the future, yes”, he said, adding that the present government is transparent and that any information that is required to be reached to the people is not being with held by the government. He feels that with the change in government in the future, the need for RTI will arise.

Kezang Dema, a corporate employee is of the view that RTI is a constitutional right as enshrined in the constitution of the Kingdom. “The prerequisite for enjoying this right is knowledge and information,” she said adding that the absence of authentic information on matters of public interest will only encourage wild rumours and speculations and avoidable allegations against individuals and institutions. “And therefore, the RTI becomes a constitutional right, being an aspect of the right to free speech and expression which includes the right to receive and collect information,” she said.

However, on the contrary, Sonam Lhamo a school teacher said that as no right can be absolute, the RTI has to have its limitations. “There will always be areas of information that should remain protected in public and national interest,” she said. Moreover, she said that this unrestricted right can have an adverse effect of an overload of demand on administration, and so the “Information has to be properly and clearly classified by an appropriate authority,” Sonam said.

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