Gross National Happiness (GNH) comprises four critical pillars: Good Governance, Culture, Economic Development and Environment. At a finer level, it has nine elements which further detail out these four pillars and add depth to the philosophy of GNH.
These are Psychological Well-being; Time Use; Community Vitality; Culture; Health; Education; Environmental Diversity; Living Standard; Governance. This represents a unique and innovative way by which the Royal Government of Bhutan has sought to define and measure human and social well being.
The transparency movement, culminating in the establishment of the right to information as a fundamental human right, is another new and innovative movement sweeping the world today.
In fact the Bhutanese constitution is one of the few around the world that guarantees Right to Information as a fundamental right. Interestingly, each one of the nine elements of the GNH index can be seen to be enhanced through the access of the right to information, and in the absence of such a right each one of these could well remain only partially fulfilled. The role that the right to information could play in each of the nine elements of the GNH is described below.
The right to information is essential to instill a sense of empowerment among the people. As they perceive themselves to be empowered in relation to their government, and in relation to other institutions that impact their lives, their belief and confidence in themselves and in the system increases. This is clearly an essential element of psychological well-being.
On the other hand, opacity in governance leads to suspicion amongst the populace, which fuels feelings of helplessness, anger and frustration, all of which negatively impact the psychological well being of a person.
Transparency legislations across the world have also been very effective instruments for redress of public grievances. In fact, studies have shown that often the very act of filing an application for information is enough to solve the problem that prompted the filing of the application in the first place. As psychological well being implies the lack of grievances in the minds of the people, such an act is essential for achieving the proposed levels of well being.
Psychological well being has been described as being “of primary importance in gauging the success of the state in providing appropriate policies and services”. The Royal Bhutanese Government has rightly determined psychological well being to be a critical indicator to the appropriateness of government policies and services. In many countries across the world, one of the most effective ways of assessing whether citizens are happy with the schemes and services being provided by the government is an analysis of the access to information requests being received by the government. Governments have been using applications for information as indicators to assess what problems the people are having, which areas of governance need improvement, which services are harder to access – in short, transparency legislation is a window into the actual grievances the people face, affording the government an excellent opportunity to address their problems.
to be continued
(The opinion piece will be the first in a series that
co-relates RTI to GNH)
By SAARC advisory group on RTI