Right to information: A right yet to be informed
Right to information is considered to be a fundamental human right within the rubric of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of People's Republic of Bangladesh. It also enlightens the term” people's republic of Bangladesh”. The term “People's Republic” itself mandates a state obligation to engage all people meaningfully for the attainment of true essence of democracy, and by then the constitution as a supreme law can reflect the solemn expression of the will of the people. With this end, Right to Information Act 2009 is one of the important legislation to establish the “culture of the transparency and accountability” of all public, autonomous and statutory organisations and of other private institutions constituted or run by government. The term “culture of the transparency and accountability” deserves attention as it becomes foreign to get the practice transparency and accountability especially in public bodies where corruption, politicisation and criminalisation are replacing. In this regard, Right to information can be instrumental by empowering people's right to know in all public spheres and this should be granted to an educated man living in the city as well as to an illiterate villager living in the rural area being deprived from many advancement facilities. In Bangladesh there is still a huge gap between rural and urban people in terms of their entitlements and this facilitates the urban people to suppress the rural people keeping them unlettered from their guaranteed right and by this the practice of corruption can be exercised smoothly which completely disregards the constitutional pledges of empowerment of all people. Here Right to information is an important tool to know how the government is performing or where is the money that he or she gives as tax going?
Coming to the Right to information Act 2009, it is found that it enables every citizen access to information from the authority and the authority shall, on demand from a citizen, be bound to provide him with the information. Here it implies that everybody should aware of their information and if any kind of information is necessary he have to make a demand for it by making an application.
How to seek information?
-Under this Act, people have to apply to the concerned Designated Officer (DO) of the concerned authority directly requesting for information either in writing or through electronic means or through e-mail.
-All information requests must provide the applicant's name, address and other particulars for a response in prescribed format as mentioned in the Rules.
-Description of the information sought for should be as correctly and clearly as possible.
-One can express a reasonable preference for the mode you wish the information to be supplied, for example, making inspection, having copy, taking note or any other approved mode like e-mail.
-For obtaining information one must pay fees as determined by the DO as prescribed in the Rules.
-The designated officer shall, on receipt of a request by fulfilling the above mentioned criteria, provide the information to the applicant within 20 (twenty) working days from the date of receiving the request. But if more than one unit or authority are involved with the information sought for, such information may be provided within 30 (thirty) working days.
-If the designated officer, due to any reason, fails to provide the information sought for, he shall inform the applicant the reasons thereof in writing within 10 (ten) working days.
-If any person fails to receive information within the aforesaid time or is aggrieved by a decision of the designated officer, within 30 (thirty) days from the expiry of such period or, as the case may be, from the receipt of such a decision, prefer an appeal to the appellate authority.
-The appellate authority will settle the appeal either by making direction to the concerned designated office to supply the appellant the requested information or dismiss the appeal if it is not considered fit for acceptance.
However the right to seek information from a public authority is not absolute. Sections 7of the Act enumerates the categories of information which are exempt from disclosure such as information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of Bangladesh, information that may affect relationship with foreign country and many others described under this section and schedule to the Act. These are made to make a balance between the freedom of information and individual privacy as well as state integrity. But here, in defining state interest or integrity due sincerity and good faith must be ensured otherwise the misuse of the exemption particularly by the government can make the whole purpose vitiated.
Despite continuous efforts by the concerned authorities, the benefits of right to information are not achieved even after three year of its journey. It is still an alien concept to millions of rural people as they are unaware or in other words reluctant as well as indifferent to know about their rights. Here state can only ensure their right to know by creating mass awareness program and strengthening local implementing units to attain the mandate of the RTI Act. The meaningful implementation of this Act will surely contribute to build the capability approach of common people and make them able for assertion of their entitlements. Only then, the Right to information can be turn into a vehicle towards the journey of empowerment process.
-From Law Desk.