Since its establishment, Freedom Forum has played significant role on establishment of legal, institutional and practical mechanisms for the implementation of right to information (RTI). It strongly advocated for the introduction of RTI Act in 2006, and for establishment of National Information Commission therefore. With this, the implementation of RTI has been a core activity of FF. Thousands of youths and women have been trained on RTI thereby building robust demand side of information, and tens of hundred public employees made aware on it to create friendly and responsive supply side of information.
RTI has been an effective tool to make people aware of public issues and their rights and engage active citizens and public officials on building good governance, for RTI seeks transparency and accountability at public offices and encourages citizens’ participation in planning and decision making. In addition to orientation, FF continued discussion, debates, follow up on RTI related development, research, suggestion for amendment of RTI Act, success stories, and safety to RTI campaigners and activists. Over this period, it must be celebrated that FF’s campaign produced many success stories that exposed huge corruption and malfeasance in Nepali governance system. The campaign is still continuous.
Adding further dimension to the augmentation of RTI regime, FF developed an RTI Nepal App two years back and promoted it extensively across the country. The App was developed in view of the growing use of internet and smart phone by the youths in Nepal. It aims is the utmost convenience to those who apply RTI- ranging from campaigners to law practitioners. Everything- laws and regulation, success story and sample RTI application- is packaged here in the App. It has freed us from the hassles of turning pages of law book, but a click on the screen.
Since June to August, FF organized a total of 27 such programs bringing together people on the knowledge of this useful App.
At a time when people’s movement was limited across the country with the COVID-19 pandemic, FF organized the Zoom meeting, thereby reaching the targeted groups for the promotion of RTI App Nepal.
ON July 5, the Zoom meeting entitled- ‘Know your right to information’ was organized in coordination with Rotaract Club of Kathmandu Metropolis. The program had the participation of 33 youths – 10 male and 23 females.
The program began with a presentation on fundamentals of right to information and procedures to demand information through the App which can be downloaded in Android Smart phones. At the program moderated by Dikchya Raut, RTI activist Aditya Dahal shared his experience of seeking information on expenses incurred during COVID19 response at a municipality office.
Program coordinator Sanju Dangol shared that knowing about RTI Nepal App, a first app on RTI in Nepal, the participants expressed happiness that they were now aware of it and would follow the formats, forms and procedures to receive information in future.
In the program, RTI expert and legal practitioner Sanjeeb Ghimire provided additional information on RTI, its legal provisions and also answered queries raised from the floor.
On July 12, similar orientation was held among 13 male and 5 female participants representing civil society, local government, teachers, youth and RTI activists from Kailai district of Far-West Province. Expert Ghimire highlighted upon the legal provisions of RTI and its use in Nepal focusing more on existing confusions on its practical use in the program.
Moreover, policy advisor Krishna Sapkota pointed out the RTI being one of the major components of open government also contributes to making transparent and accountable government.
During the program, some participants shared their experience and difficulties they faced while using RTI. They also suggested inviting citizens along with local level authorities at such programs to ensure free access to information among general public.
They also said that the program was relevant, very useful and that they could easily seek information with the help of application formats available in the app.
Local coordinator Thakur Prasad Kariyapradhan facilitated the program while Pramod Bhattarai presented principles of RTI, related act, and its practical application through RTI Nepal App. The program was also held through Zoom application.
Similarly, next program was conducted on July 10 in Bajhang district of Far-West Province gathering 4 males and 16 females representing civil society, youth and RTI activists. Representative DambarSunar facilitated the program while Bhattarai from FF provided orientation on theoretical and practical aspects of RTI and RTI Nepal App.
At the program, participants shared their experience while exercising RTI at public agencies. One of the participants shared that a community school which was reluctant to provide information before responded within two days after filing application using RTI. He had demanded information regarding student’s scholarship scheme.
FF’s General Secretary and Senior RTI activist Dharmendra Jha discussed how RTI evolved worldwide, its basic concepts and importance at citizens’ level.
Similarly, in a separate orientation held among media technology post-graduate students in federal capital Kathmandu on July 18, Jha explained that importance of RTI is to expose existing irregularities. He also stated present challenges on retrieving information from local authorities and making local citizens aware about their right to information.
During the program, one of the students Kabita Sharma shared difficulties she had to receive copy of her answer sheet using RTI at examination board. All the participants being media professionals expressed thanks to FF for building such informative and understandable App with facility of sharing questions through the App. The program was held via zoom. It was attended by 10 males and five females.
Again, at an orientation held on July 9 in Karnali Province, Chairperson of Karnali Foundation, Narayan Bhattarai, presented introduction, principles of RTI and its application through the App. Total 28 participants (17 male and 11 female) including journalists, civil society representatives, teachers and law students from different districts of the province attended the program.
Coordinator Khagendra Bhattarai had moderated the Zoom program where participants especially journalists and students expressed commitment to use RTI through the app to contribute to creating informed citizenry for good governance. The participants also described RTI as an effective tool to expose corruption and develop information culture helps build responsible and accountable public authorities.
The campaign further continued among 22 students and tutors of a law college in Kathmandu. FF’s Secretary and Advocate Ram Maya Lamichhane provided orientation, maintaining physical distance among the participants on July 10. At the program, Lamichhane discussed RTI Act, its principles, practices and success stories in Nepal whereas, Pramod Bhattarai described the App and its use.
The participants were eager to learn more about process to appeal at National Information Commission after the first information request is denied from concerned authority and they also urged for the need to bolster NIC’s function to promote use of RTI.
Again, on July 12, Lamichhane conducted an orientation among local representatives, community school representatives and citizens of Suryabinayak Municipality of Bhaktapur district. Along with Lamichhane, Aditya Dahal from FF moderated the program providing information on the App and its contents. The orientation was attended by 26 male and 5 female participants.
In the program, Ward Chair Kiran Thapa said though the program was short, it was informative and useful for ward members as well as citizens for building good governance. He further informed the participants to read a book published by the municipality about its program and policies.
Owing to the pandemic, majority of the programs were conducted through Zoom online platform and few in-person with precaution.
Starting from June, twelfth program was conducted on July 20 by FF’s Secretary and Senior Advocate Rammaya Lamichhane among women members in Bhaktapur Municipality maintaining physical distance among participants and necessary precautionary measures. In the program, advocate Lamichhane described right to information and its importance along with the use of RTI Nepal App for exercising RTI. In the program, Aditya Dahal presented features of the application. Participants were excited to know about the app with many features including information request formats.
Also in Province-5, FF representative Sudeep Gautam organized a similar program among youths on the same day. Bipul Pokhrel, Vice-Chair of the Federation of Nepali Journalists explained RTI and its app among students at the program. Students were enthusiast to learn about their fundamental right through which they could demand required information at the public offices.
Gautam informed that more than 50 participants have downloaded the app so far and started using it.
Next on July 23 Narayan Bhattarai, Chairperson of Karnali Foundation threw light on the objectives of RTI and its legal provisions in Nepal at an orientation held among journalists, teachers and law students in Karnali Province. At the program conducted in coordination with Karnali Foundation, Vice Chair Khagendra Bhattarai moderated the program. The program was useful to orient the participants on importance of app for exercising RTI thereby making public bodies accountable towards citizens.
Then on July 25, students from Gandaki Province were provided basic information on RTI, its objectives and the RTI Nepal App. FF Chairperson Hari Binod Adhikari shared few success stories of RTI and described about various information that could be sought by students using RTI.
The program was coordinated by Gandaki Province representative Rajan Upadhyay. On July 26, Upadhyay again gathered youths in the province and advocate Lamichhane oriented them on the RTI Nepal App. She also focused on legal provisions binding RTI and its application process. Youths were enthusiast to learn about the useful app with application request formats. One of the participants thanked FF and said, “With the help of this application, we can demand information without anyone’s help.”
On the same day, next orientation was held among RTI activists, youths and teachers from Morang, Sunsari, Jhapa, Terathum, Panchthar, Sankhuwasabha, Udayapur and Dhankuta districts of Province-1. The orientation started with a presentation on introduction and objectives of RTI by Raju Shrestha, an RTI activist. At the program, Sandilya Kafle, an RTI activist and technology student suggested FF that it added a feature on the app so that one could directly upload information requests and information received oneself.
Another participant Sishu Panta shared the experience that he had filed RTI application with the help of Shrestha in a university after he received absent remark in one of the subjects in his mark sheet. He further added that the app would be much helpful to seek information in a hassle-free manner.
On the next day July 27, orientation was held among youth politicians, activists, students and media persons from Jhapa, Ilam and Panchthar districts of Province-1 maintaining physical distance. Activist Shrestha coordinated as well as made presentation on the objectives of RTI and the features of the app.
Next orientation was conducted among media technology graduates of Shepherd College in Bagmati Province on July 28. The program coordinated by Kabita Sharma was moderated by Nanu Maiya Khadka. She presented the basic principles of RTI, its application process and the app, while FF’s General Secretary and RTI expert Dharmendra Jha informed the participants about evolution of RTI and its practical aspects including legal provisions.
The orientation continued on July 29 among teachers, social workers, activists and locals in Province-2 through Zoom online. At the program, Jha shed light on the importance of RTI at community level and described how a citizen could contribute to good governance using RTI. Most of the participants shared worrying condition of RTI implementation in the province where the activists were attacked, misbehaved and their voices went unheard. Such incidents discouraged one to exercise RTI which in turn leads to corruption at local bodies, he added.
Jha however encouraged the participants to continue demanding information despite difficulties and assured those of FF’s support when required. The program was coordinated by representative from the province Rajan Singh and Nanu Maiya Khadka from FF made presentation on the RTI App.
Following orientation to the youths in Gandaki Province, representative Upadhyay coordinated the fourth orientation to journalists in the province on July 31. The program was facilitated by FF Chairperson Adhikari who emphasized the general practices and objectives of RTI and how RTI Nepal App could help demand information of public interest with the local government. Realizing the power of RTI as a tool for good governance, journalists further claimed that although the use of RTI was important, information was delayed or in some cases denied by the supply side because of which they rather used telephone calls for news reporting.
We believe women’s access to information is equally essential to empower them. Taking it into account, local women were also provided orientation on RTI and the app. FF representative Sudip Gautam conducted next program in Province 5 among the members of Dang Women Jaycees on July 31. FNJ’s central Vice-President Pokhrel facilitated the program by providing information on RTI, its use and steps to demand information along with importance of the App to conveniently practice RTI. The program was organized in-person adopting basic precautionary measures.
Again, on August 1 Gautam gathered around 57 women with majority of homemakers. At the program, Pokhrel acquainted participants on introduction, objectives, basic steps of RTI and the features of RTI Nepal App. He also helped the participants download the app on their mobile phones to ease information-seeking process. Similarly, an RTI activist Kiran Thapa shared his experiences and process to file application with the participants.
At Province 2, Rajan Singh again conducted second orientation on the app among journalists, RTI activists and few local representatives from the Province on August 1. Senior RTI activist Dharmendra Jha discussed the evolution of RTI and its current scenario in Nepal. He also informed the participants about FF’s recent campaign on RTI from where he demanded information on COVID 19 related expenditures at all districts of Province 2 and Bagmati Province.
Local representatives at the program expressed their commitment to cooperate with the information seekers and ensure free access to information to citizens at the province.
Next orientation on RTI and use of the app was organized in Gaindakot of Gandaki Province with the support from local youth on August 7. The local youth organizations- Gaindakot Municipal Youth Forum and Rotaract Club of Gaindakot collaborated for the event where 40 youths had participated. FF Policy Advisor Krishna Sapkota delivered the introductory presentation on RTI including its legal and practical aspects while Nanu Maiya Khadka highlighted the RTI App features.
According to program coordinator Birat Sapkota, participants learnt that RTI is a solid base for governance and accountability and also for boosting local democracy. The youths also understood that they could demand information from the local municipality on the expenses of the recent COVID-19 management.
Additionally, after being aware of the RTI law, some youths made commitment to use RTI law to demand information from Gaindakot Municipality and continue the dialogue on the RTI in future days.
On August 14, another orientation was held in Gaindakot among members of child club. Children actively participated in the event conducted through Zoom online. At the program coordinated by Santosh Bhattarai, Sapkota briefed the basic concepts of RTI and the app. Bhattarai shared about his recent information request at Gaindakot Municipality about COVID 19 expenditure.
Further, President of Child Club Pradipti Kandel thanked FF for providing them opportunity to participate in the event and sharing valuable information about the app.
FF’s Sudurpaschim Province representative Min Bam conducted orientation among youths and journalists in Dhangadhi on August 13. He informed the participants about the app through which everyone could get necessary information about RTI and its practices.
Coordinator of National Network for RTI and senior RTI Activist in the province Umid Bagchand also highlighted the importance of RTI, what type of information could be acquired by using RTI, what were the steps to be followed, etc. Moreover, participants discussed the challenges of its implementation where approximately people are illiterate and most of the information on government websites is inaccessible or in English language.
This way, FF concluded its nationwide campaign on promotion of the RTI Nepal App. The campaign covered all seven provinces of Nepal. Total 877 participants including 381 females (43%) learnt about RTI as their fundamental right and the RTI Nepal App as a convenient and useful tool to exercise their fundamental right.