Inadequate publicity for the Right to Information Act, inability of the information commission and slow pace in making necessary rules and regulations have delayed implementation of the act, observed speakers at a discussion yesterday.
They were very critical of the government for not providing the three-member commission, responsible for implementing the act, with necessary manpower, logistic support and offices. The government is taking too much time to prepare rules and regulations, which are necessary for effective implementation of the act, they said.
Manusher Jonno Foundation organised the seminar at the Jatiya Press Club titled “One year of Right to Information (RTI) Act: present status and future plan of work”.
Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad, chief guest of the seminar, said the government despite its limitations was trying to implement the RTI.
“We are building capacity of different institutions and awareness among people. We also sought separate budget for the commission,” he said, adding that the prime minister was very keen on implementing the RTI and is giving all kinds of support in this regard.
“We have a tendency to see everything negatively. We can make the RTI successful if we work together,” he added.
Journalist Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul said the media in the last one year did not play its due role regarding RTI implementation.
He regretted that publicity for the RTI could not be launched properly and people do not know from whom they should seek information. “What is inspiring is that trainings are being organised for media people in Dhaka and other parts of the country.”
Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique, special guest of the programme, emphasised the need for changing the culture of secrecy. “Everything depends on availability of information, so we first inform people what the RTI is and how it can benefit them,” he added.
He said 70 to 80 percent people are not aware of their rights. “So they don’t know how to use the rights and where to go if the rights are being violated,” he said, adding that this reality should be considered in implementing the RTI.
Prof of Dhaka University Asif Nazrul termed the RTI a powerful act but felt sorry for the progress of implementation. He emphasised the need for capacity building of the commission and other institutions for effective implementation of the RTI.
President of Jatiya Press Club Shawkat Mahmud accused the government of not providing necessary support to the commission. “The government is not providing necessary funds to the commission when money for many projects is left unused,” he said.
Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation Shaheen Anam moderated the function. She said the act was passed in the first session of this parliament on March 29, 2009. She termed the passing of the act a ground-breaking decision of the government. “The government, sensing the importance, promulgated the act following movements and demands of various sections in the society.”
She, however, said it may not be expected that an act would be implemented immediately after its enactment. “What we want to see is the intent of the government…whether they are willing to implement it properly,” she said.
She said effectiveness of the RTI depends on how independently the commission works.
Information Secretary Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury said the act cannot be implemented overnight and sought cooperation of all in this regard. He admitted that people are yet to be properly made aware of the act.
He said rules of the RTI were announced in a gazette recently and regulations will be announced soon.
About information officers, he said information ministry wrote to all the offices to have names of the officers. “We have got names of 1,600 officers so far which are available on the ministry’s website,” he said.
An information officer is supposed to provide people with information at different offices.
Highlighting various obstacles, Secretary to the information commission Nepal Chandra Sarker said the commission is dependant on various ministries like establishment, law and information for recruiting manpower, setting up offices and getting logistics.
President of Bangladesh Mohila Parishad Ayesha Khanam suggested that schoolteachers, upazila vice-chairmen and elected women representatives should be involved in building awareness about the RTI.
Sanjida Sobhan of Manusher Jonno Foundation presented a keynote paper on the topic.
Rokia Afzal Rahman, chairperson of Mediaworld, presided over the seminar, which was also addressed by Fatema Yusuf of CPD, Shahidul Haq and Tanvir Siddiqui.