An intent to introduce the RTI Bill along with a draft was submitted to Honorable Thrizin on March 16, 2012 for debate in the 9th session of Parliament and subsequently distributed to all other Honorable Members of the National Council. The Honorable Chairperson then forwarded the draft to the Legislative Committee for comments.
Discussions on it began on the premise of inclusion of RTI in the Government’s legislative priority list. It is also enshrined in the Constitution of Bhutan.
Based on these, questions were posed to the Government concerning the legislation of RTI in Bhutan on several occasions by a few members during question hour of the National Council. It was understood through responses of the Government that the RTI draft was being prepared and subsequently, submitted to the cabinet for consideration.
Eventually, through a statement made by the Honorable Prime Minister, it was made known that the RTI legislation was not a priority. Having interacted with the Government through the Honorable Minister for Information and Communication, both at discussions level and question hour in Parliament, I then decided to take the initiative of drafting a RTI Bill as a private member’s Bill as allowed by our laws. This culminated in the submission and subsequently, discussions in the plenary of the National Council.
Through lengthy discussions in the House plenary though a few colleagues supported that the proposal be taken to debate, some expressed concerns and hesitation. Reasons submitted for hesitation on supporting the RTI bill primarily concerned lack of time to do a thorough consultation and the timing of the proposal in the face of unpreparedness of the society, the news media and the bureaucracy. While there was a lot of support on the idea of enhancing transparency in governance, there was less support for the idea of a debate on the RTI law for Bhutan.
Subsequently, there were several appeals to consider shelving the draft as there were also concerns that voting on it could result in unnecessary labeling and accusations against fellow law-makers of being seen as corrupt if they were not in favor of the Bill.
Members felt that their inability to lend support to the Bill may be misunderstood as having corrupt intentions and also being corrupt. While I still believe a RTI law would greatly benefit governance as the proposed draft combines three elements of transparency, public service delivery and public records management, which would benefit the populace, in one way or the other, as a member I respect the decision of the National Council to shelve it for now.
However, I still see opportunity with this initial sensitization for continued discussion at a wider level. With signs of the Government still working on creating awareness, I believe we may still see the debate grow richer.
Having made an earnest attempt at presenting my case for a RTI law in Bhutan, looking at developments thus far, it has become evident that the proposed RTI Bill has not been able to garner enough support in the House.
I do not agree with what most members cited but I believe that without enough support, the Bill may not have made it past the initial stage of proposing a motion to introduce the bill. Therefore, at the 65th plenary earlier today, yielding to popular decision, I agreed to respect and abide by the decision of the House to shelve the proposed draft RTI and instead discuss RTI as another agenda and not a legislation proposal during the 9th session. This debate will make another attempt at continuing with on-going sensitization efforts.
As the sponsor of the proposed RTI draft, I am quite certain that the RTI awareness efforts and discussions, as indicated by the Government’s on-going initiatives will continue to help us in cultivating a vibrant culture of civic engagement and social accountability. I also want to thank each and everyone who has taken the time to read and comment on RTI. Your support in this important debate will have to continue to contribute on creating more awareness.
The writer Sangay Khandu is the National Council MP from Gasa