RTI Bill to be introduced in NC
In a historic move for Bhutan’s fledgling democracy, National Council MP from Gasa, Sangay Khandu will introduce the Right To Information Bill (RTI) in the 9th session of the Parliament on May 2012.
The Right To Information bill is considered by many to be an effective good governance and anti-corruption.
The Bill will be introduced as a private members bill which means that MP, Sangay Khandu, will be bringing in the RTI Bill as an NC MP and not as a representative of any government agency. The constitution allows either of the houses of parliament to bring in laws and it also empowers individuals or groups of MPs to sponsor bills.
This comes after the Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley in a recent statement to the media said that the RTI Bill is not a priority. The prime minister’s statement contradicted four years of constant assurances by the elected government to bring in the RTI bill before the end of his government.
MP, Sangay Khandu, submitted the bill to the National Council Chairman, Namgay Penjore, on Friday afternoon.
“With the NC Chairman accepting the bill, it will be introduced for discussion first in the 9th session of the National Council in May 2012,” said Sangay Khandu.
However, in a move away from traditional law making the Bill will be put up on a host of websites and social media pages to enable people to see the bill and recommend necessary changes to the bill. These are www.sangaykhandu.com and RTI in Bhutan on facebook. He can also be contacted at email@example.com
“The submission of the bill to the NC Chairman does not mean that bill has been finalized as I can still make changes to the bill depending on public feedback,” said Sangay Khandu.
The Bill is largely based on the 2007 version of the then High Court RTI Bill a copy of which had been handed over to the Ministry of Information and Communication in 2009. It is understood that the little heard of MoIC version is also largely based on the High Court version. (see other story ‘What is in the Bill’)
If the National Council passes the bill then the ball will be in the government’s court as the RTI Bill will go to the National Assembly for deliberations where DPT holds a majority. Any attempt to undermine the bill here is expected to be controversial.
The NC, MP says that one of the reasons that initially inspired him to take up the RTI issue was when he was denied two audit reports one on the Bhutan Lottery scam and the other on the Constituency Development Grant by the Royal Audit Authority.
“I realized that when I as a MP, who is entitled to Audit reports, is being denied public information to make more informed laws then the ordinary Bhutanese would be in a far worse position,” said the MP.
The MP also stated his reasons for introducing the RTI Bill.
“I am introducing the RTI Bill because the last few discussions in the parliament have been on transparency and accountability, both of which enhance democracy, the constitution provides for RTI as a Fundamental Right and to implement such a provision we should have laws to fulfill it, and RTI will also lead to a more vibrant democracy and open government,” said the MP.
He said that the RTI Bill would help engaging the public in decision making as better informed citizens could better partake in decision making. He said he thought of RTI as a positive force where citizens need not just file numerous request but that most of the information should be made available freely. Sangay Khandu, said that the civil society and media that play a role in ensuring social accountability and enhancing transparency can also use RTI.
In the backdrop of one big scam after another RTI is seen by many to be an effective anti- corruption tool. Sangay Khandu said, “In most instances complaints of corruption by the people go un-noticed. With RTI people can seek information based on which action can take place, and people in power can be more accountable as they know that any decision they take will be accessible,” said Sangay Khandu.
The NC MP was forced to take up the bill as time was running out for the RTI Bill with only two parliamentary sessions left before the 2013 elections. “For any Bill to be passed at least two session are required, one in the NC and one in the NA.” He clarified that he was not undermining the government but only fulfilling his legislative mandate.
“I am hoping that first parliament can enact the law,” said Sangay Khandu.
Coming from a rural constituency like Gasa Dzongkhag the MP said that this bill would enormously help the rural people as RTI would better help rural people to be better informed about their local government.
Meanwhile, this move by the NC MP has taken the government off guard. The elected government since 2008 had been promising the RTI Bill in parliament. According to sources a copy of the Bill sent by the MoIC Minister Lyonpo Nandalal Rai to his cabinet colleagues in 2009 did not get a warm response and has since then been on cold storage.
The MoIC Secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji, said that at the moment the MoIC’s RTI draft is with a team of student of the Columbia University’s International school that is comparing the bill with other international RTI Bills
The secretary said, “even as we talk of RTI we have to talk about right to privacy, as these two concepts balance each other especially with the explosion of social media sites. There are also societies crying out for privacy.”
The minister is understood to have instructed his ministry to create some awareness on RTI in a group of meeting with stakeholders in April 2012 but there is no plan by the MoIC to introduce the RTI Bill in parliament for the upcoming session.