KATHMANDU: Right to Information (RTI) is one of the 31 fundamental rights enshrined by the Constitution of Nepal (2015). Article 27 of the Constitution has bestowed citizen the right to access information on any matters of public importance held by public agencies except some matters.
This is, however, not the first Constitution of Nepal to ensure the citizen’s right to know. The first constitutional guarantee of right to information dates back to the adoption of 1990 Constitution following the establishment of democracy in the country two-and-a-half decades ago.
The 2007 Interim Constitution also echoed the same RTI proviso upholding the importance of the right, which significantly paved the way for the adoption of RTI Act. In order to implement the right, the government adopted the RTI Act in July 2007 which came into effect on 20 August the same year. This is one of the spectacular democratic achievements of the country so far towards widening civic space and engagement to closely scrutinize development and governance.
With this, Nepal’s RTI implementation has ushered into a decade-long journey which is adequate in-itself to prove its essence and emergence. Nevertheless, it cannot be professed that there are no as such notable achievements. The legal and institutional mechanisms promoting right to information have been put into place. The implementation is gaining ground gradually with its institutionalization and expansion to the lower rung.
The RTI has been gradually decentralized to the grassroots; a section of citizens has increased its access to rights and entitlements. Some of the success stories of RTI have increased its trust among the public as a tool to reveal truth and dispense justice. A community of practice is springing up at the local level for using and promoting right to information.
As required by the Act, all 27 Ministries have started disclosing different 20 types of publicly important information in every three months. Likewise, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MOFALD) has developed disclosure guidelines along with standard website format for local bodies which has come to effect now.
Since the National Information Commission was formed and an RTI Regulation charted out, RTI activists’ network is on an expansion drive and stakeholders’ sensitization and promotional activities are being held to highlight the significance of RTI.
“Appointment of Public Information Officers in Ministries, Department and central government agencies; steady rise in the practice of proactive disclosure at centre and districts, growing citizen’s request for information from public agencies, issuance of orders and directives and RTI audit of the key ministries are among the notable practices of RTI”, said Chief Information Commissioner Krishna Hari Baskota at a programme recently organized in the capital to mark the nine years of the RTI. He also shared that the NIC has issued 1,799 orders to 108 categories of public agencies including political parties, banks and financial institutions, government bureaucracy and development projects to routinely disclose and provide information on request since their appointments as commissioners on 15 January 2015.
According to NIC, it has so far received 2,409 appeals from information requesters after their request to information was denied by public agencies or the information provided was not satisfactory. However, the civil society organizations working for RTI note that the number of appeals to NIC so far is quite nominal which also shows poor level of RTI implementation. It may be noted that the NIC has not taken statutory action against any public authorities for not abiding with RTI laws which may be a cause for meager number of appeal.
The CSOs further argue that the growing state of impunity on part of information providers or supply side has undermined the implementation of RTI, limiting it to a mere rhetoric.
Information request is the driving force of RTI. The more requests are filed the more momentum it creates for the implementation of the civic right. Volume of requests for information from public agency was low while compliance with both reactive and proactive disclosure of information was not appealing. The RTI mechanisms – RTI Coordination Unit at Prime Minister’s Office and Monitoring Unit at Ministry of Information and Communications – are not functional.
Lack of political will followed by resistance on part of bureaucracy is a major bottleneck to RTI implementation in Nepal. Among others are cultural barriers (secretive culture), poor records management, capacity gaps among information providers and seekers, impunity (no action for non-compliance of RTI), lack of strategic intervention of NIC and limited and distracted CSO engagement. These are the problems which are yet to be resolved through collaborative approach of all stakeholders.
Based on our learning and experience, there are several areas for constitutional, legal and pragmatic reforms towards realizing its promises in practice. The national charter has not included a phrase ‘impart’ in its RTI provision ‘Every citizen shall have the right to seek and receive information…” as the international standard and best practice call for ensuring ‘seek, receive and impart’ information. Likewise, the constitution has not guaranteed the right to all people limiting it to the citizens which is also not up to the mark. There is no envisioning of federal Information Commissions when the country has already ushered into the new political structure.
The RTI Act-2007 also still has some ambiguous clauses providing space for limiting the RTI practice which also need to be amended.
In a nutshell, the most important missing part of a decade of RTI movement is less attraction of grassroots people to use the tool for their rights, justice and opportunity. It is one of the promises of RTI which has not been realized in practice. So far this is the key point that requires to be reviewed and strategic measures should be put in place to make this a weapon of citizens, especially at the lower rung of the society.
. (Source: National News Agency, RSS)