Detailed consultations on RTI to be held at LG level

The bill which has been pushed to be discussed in the 2nd Parliamentary session by the NA also seems to be drawing extreme views

The National Assembly (NA) members earlier this week on September 24 decided to discuss in detail the Right to Information (RTI) Bill in the winter session of NA.

The reviewed report on the draft bill was presented to the house by NA’s Legislative Committee Chairperson MP Lekey Dorji after it was forwarded to the committee by the assembly on September 19.

MP Lekey, on behalf of the committee, recommended that bill be discussed thoroughly in the winter session and stressed on five main points. The Legislative Committee after four rounds of meetings and careful review of the bill resolved that more time be allowed for consultation with stakeholders before discussing it in Parliament.

He said the fundamental right to information guaranteed by the Constitution may be compromised if the loopholes in the RTI Bill are not fixed and could lead to disputes between information providers and the ones requesting it.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo said access to information was a fundamental right the Constitution granted the people but that certain provisions of the legislation needed clarity.

MP Lekey said it is important to see whether provisions of the bill are in sync with those of other laws of the country. He said, members during their constitutional visits could educate people on the provisions and benefits of the draft legislation and return with feedback for discussion.

He said the committee needs to put in more time to carefully examine the type of information that shall be considered restricted or classified.

“We recommend that the bill needs to be discussed in detail with stakeholders including the media, civil servants, local governments, legal experts and general public,” he added.

MP Ritu Raj Chhetri of Samtse who is also a member of the house’s Legislative Committee said there were numerous laws for a small country that even the people in the judiciary today were having difficulty in interpreting them, referring one another to check if laws were in agreement and which superseded the other.

Lyonchhen Tshering Togbgay during the 2nd ‘Meet the Press’ session told local reporters that the bill like in many countries is proving to be divisive and drawing extreme opinions. “People who have an opinion on the bill either are calling for more or free access to information and that the bill is restrictive while on the other hand we have people who are cautioning the government that RTI if enacted is going to compromise the government’s ability to serve the country and people.”

He, however, said the bill is no more in the hands of the cabinet or executive for the government has already presented it to the Parliament and is now in the house’s Legislative Committee’s court. “We will work with the Legislative Committee if so required by the committee and with their suggestions discuss it with the public at large. We cannot pre-empt the committee’s work but we hope the committee shall discuss the bill in detail with the members of the local governments and local communities because they also feel that the bill has not addressed the need for RTI of our villagers and they constitute the majority of our population,” Lyonchhen said.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen has assured that the RTI Act will be in place and will be passed by the current government despite the delay.

On the bill’s provision with regard to restricted or classified information, Home Minister Damcho Dorji said, “It is something on which I don’t think there will be a common consensus because of the fact that there are two conflicting interest groups; one seeking information and the other who have to provide information.”

He explained that person requesting information may want it whether it could jeopardize the sovereignty and security of the nation, which is not permitted by the Constitution itself. “Also there is much information which can breach the right to privacy,” Lyonpo added.

He said, “It will take some time to come to terms with these restrictive provisions but we need to work together as responsible citizens for the common good of the country and people.”

Economic Affairs Minister Norbu Wangchuk reiterated on his earlier statement that if the question is about whether we are ready for such a law, “People are ready for RTI. It’s about whether we as Parliamentarians who are passing the law are ready. The bill promises good governance, transparency, curbing corruption, quality and timely service delivery. So, I have not met a single citizen who is not ready for this kind of law.”

The assembly’s Legislative Committee comprises of nine members including its Chairperson. They are Samtse’s MP Ritu Raj Chhetri, Punakha’s MP and NA deputy speaker Chimi Dorji, Mongar’s MP Ugyen Wangdi, Lhuntse’s Karma Rangdol, Tsirang’s MP Yogesh Tamang, Haa’s MP Kinley Om, Gasa’s MP Pema Drukpa and MP Rinzin Jamtsho of Mongar.

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