Part-3 How RTI can help achieve GNH

6. Education

This is another example of an area where the people and the government can work together, and make transparency legislation twice as powerful. Education is the fastest growing demand amongst most sections of society, but most especially amongst the weaker sections, and it is largely up to the government to make sure that its citizens have access to a reasonable standard of education. The right to information can be used to ensure that information about education schemes are widely disseminated and are well implemented, and also spread awareness about the process of governance, and about democracy and the rights, privileges and duties this system entails.

Transparency will also foster the spirit of education, a thirst for knowledge and inquiry, and the growth and dissemination of knowledge, all pre-requisites for the attainment of active citizenship.

7. Environmental Diversity

In many parts of the world, including much of Europe and in India, the first public demand for transparency came from the environmental movements. The area of environmental conservation continues to be one of those areas where the right to information is most extensively used.

Given the convergence of interests of the government and the local communities for the protection of the environment, this is another area where the government and the people can effectively work together. Bhutan is a small nation, with huge areas under forests and other natural ecosystems. It also has a strong culture of environmental sensitivity, with its people caring deeply about the natural riches of their country. Transparency legislation would facilitate the dissemination of information about the state of the environment, and what must be done to protect it. It can raise awareness about the threats posed by over fishing, deforestation and poaching, and help people to participate in the protection of their countries environment. Transparency legislation would also work well in this field as an indicator for problem areas.  In Bhutan, with economic development, there is a growing demand for mineral resources   RTI would bring a new measure of transparency to the management of the mining sector in Bhutan including a more open clearance process, more effective monitoring, and less environmental damage as a result.

 

8 Living Standard

The living standards of many individuals, especially those in lower income groups, depend to a large extent on government schemes and services designed to help them. The right to information would allow greater access to government schemes, lower the transactional cost and minimize corruption within the system.

It would also ensure, through proactive suo motu disclosures, that the people, especially the weaker segments of the society, are kept updated on what the government is doing to help raise their living standards, and what their entitlements are. Experience elsewhere has shown that the rise in awareness is invariably followed by a rise in living standards.  In the 10th plan period, the governments is spending Nu 147 billion on poverty alleviation and improving living standards.

The presence of an RTI law would complement these aims by encouraging citizens to monitor the effectiveness of public spending, check misuse, and facilitate civic participation in the development process.

 

9. Governance

The right to information, and legislation enacted to implement it, are primarily tools of good governance. Its impact can be felt in every aspect of governance and it stimulates the primary function of government, service to its people.

Experience with transparency legislation has revealed how powerful it is in bringing about change, and allowing the people to talk to their elected representatives, to make their demands and problems clear, and to hold them responsible for their actions.

Effects on corruption are the most obvious; it is very difficult to embezzle money when every single citizen has the power to demand the whereabouts of government money, and to find the person responsible for its disappearance. It is hard to dally over a request from a citizen when that citizen can insist on seeing the files pertaining to their request and demand to know why it is taking so long. Similarly one can see the change in resource allocation, record management, and efficiency of decision making. It will also help with the prevention of grievances, and will facilitate the deepening of democracy, and it will make communication a two way street between the government and the populace. Ultimately, it is a method by which representative democracy gets supplemented by participatory democracy, and governments become accountable to the people not just through their elected representatives, and not just periodically, but directly and every day.

Many good governance measures being carried out by the Bhutan government such as reducing red tape, reforming key public services, and decentralizing authority to the district and local levels can be strengthened by an effective RTI law.  RTI can also help keep citizens informed of government decisions, generate feedback on the performance of public agencies, and resolve citizen complaints.  RTI is a powerful weapon to check corruption and the misuse of authority at all levels of government.

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