“Despite having RTI Act, regarded as an effective tool to curb corruption for long, good governance is still elusive, especially at local level of late. When the right to information (RTI) campaigners file applications seeking information of public importance from the public offices, they are not only discouraged and harassed but also denied registration of the application.”

It was what Manoj Rauniyar, a RTI campaigner shared about his city Birgunj, a business hub in State-2. He further said hostile behaviour to the RTI campaigners has increased much although we have the changed system of governance- federalism where the local governments are expected to deliver public service at people’s door step in a transparent manner.

Rauniyar’s efforts are aimed at making public offices transparent and accountable so that they could ensure good governance. As the huge chunk of budget and authority go to the local levels and State governments following the adoption of federal system in the country, it is not unwise for the citizens to expect smooth public delivery and accelerated development activities where the transparency is maintained and citizens’ rights are respected.

Like Rauniyar, various RTI campaigners connected to a virtual programme on Wednesday shared the problems they faced while exercising the right to information. They stressed the need to raise the issue of safety of RTI requesters and campaigners in order to keep the information campaign living.

Advocate Bishwojeet Tiwari from Nepalgunj suggested incorporation of the provision of safety of RTI campaigners while amending the RTI Act.

“It was nearly a decade back, I was shoved out of a government office in the Kathmandu Valley as I was there to seek information. I experienced much harassment, threat and even lure for exercising my fundamental right- the right to information,” shared another longtime RTI campaigner Sharada Bhushal. She stressed that while giving training on RTI, the safety of RTI requesters must be included. Bhushal said the role of National Information Commission must be upped to protect the rights of citizens and save information campaigners from untoward situation.

Moreover, journalists and RTI campaigner Umid Bagchand from Dhangadhi informed that an RTI requester was manhandled while requesting information at the Office of the Chief Minister of Sudurpaschim State. Time has come for cooperation among various sides to ensure the safety of RTI campaigners, he added.

Ajay Saha from Udayapur informed that the network of RTI campaigners was expanding at the local, district and State levels. Such networks also help in settling disputes between information requesters and public office bearers.

Basanta Banjade from Kapilvastu however said the harassment to information campaigners was largely reduced in the recent time in the district. “It is all because RTI campaign continued despite hostility in the beginning. It was tough indeed in the initial days to remind and convince public officers on the value of RTI and the related laws. But now with the expansion of the network, public offices in the districts are becoming friendly”.

Banjade however expressed worry, “I wonder why the friends in the same campaign of RTI in the beginning are denying information after they are elected people’s representatives now.”

Freedom of expression and information expert Sanjeeb Ghimire said, “RTI requests could be filed jointly for lessening the threats at local levels. Even the postal and digital requests and information receipt could be made legal for decreasing harassment and physical attacks on RTI requesters.”

Similarly, Executive Chief at Freedom Forum Taranath Dahal believed that such togetherness of RTI campaigners to share experience would help expand RTI regime and build good governance. As the corruption cases were still rife, the RTI campaign needs to be continued. Collaborative efforts can help ensure safety to advocates of good governance- the RTI campaigners. The virtual programme was organized by Freedom Forum. The FF has been organizing such programs marking September as the RTI month. September 28 is marked as the International Day of the Universal Access to Information across the globe.

The views of the RTI requesters from different parts of the country warrant attention that public offices respect the law and rights of citizen to information and join hands with them to ensure good governance.

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