Access to Information

It all started with the compulsory resignation of two women foresters which an initially mistaken press release said was for talking to the media, though the actual reason as stated by the Ministry was for insubordination or refusing to follow transfer orders.

This was also in the backdrop of the managing out of senior executives, though the fact is that they were managed out for not being able to match the expectations of the assessment and it had nothing to do with the media.

Then the RCSC issued a series of rules which was primarily aimed at holding civil servants accountable.

The RCSC made it clear then and now that the rules do not mean that civil servants cannot talk to the media or share public information with the media.

However, its seems a wave of fear has gripped both civil servants and public servants and now even senior officials are afraid to talk to the media.

Government agencies are either not talking or following the lead of Thimphu Thromde have put up onerous processes to get information.

Now contrast this with the Department of Home Affairs of the Australian Government. This paper sent a short email with a few questions on Bhutanese in Australia to what is arguably Australia’s most sensitive ministry looking after internal security.

The Department responded within a short time with a detailed array of data even though the query came from a foreign journalist they never met.

The inability of government agencies in Bhutan to share information indicates several things.

It shows that there is a paralysis within the agencies as they are afraid to share even public information. There is also a great degree of confusion as officials do not know what they can or cannot say and so they think the best thing to do is to shut up.

This lack of transparency also shows that the agencies themselves lack confidence and are uncertain.

It also indicates that our agencies still do not know how to store and share data with each other or with the public.

The direct implication of agencies not sharing public information is the violation of the fundamental rights of Bhutanese citizens to information, free media and expression granted under the Constitution.

There should be a course correction for the good of all sides and above all the nation and its people.

Secrecy was the problem; transparency the obvious cure.
Robert J. Sawyer

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