MoICE Minister Karma Dorji

MoICE’s SOP intended to ensure easy access to information makes things more difficult

During the 50th Meet-the- Press session, MoICE Minister Karma Dorji was questioned on the access to information getting delayed due to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued on 28 April 2023 by the ministry. To which, the minister responded stating the idea of the SOP was not to limit access of information but to make information more accessible.

The minister justified the claim by pointing out that there was no established system for obtaining information in the past, making it challenging for the media to determine who to contact for information. The executive order, according to the minister, enables the ministry to keep track of and assess how well it is being carried out.

He said the SOP is not a set of laws and regulations, there are no consequences if an agency fails to implement it. He reassured, nonetheless, that if the SOP is not followed correctly, anyone can lodge a grievance with the ministry.

Every government organisation, whether autonomous or not, is required to adopt the SOP, according to the MoICE minister.

Senior reporter for Business Bhutan, Sangay Rabten, said, “Getting information these days is a growing challenge. As a result of increased protocol, accessing information has grown increasingly difficult and time-consuming.”

He claimed that the Royal Government of Bhutan’s autonomous bodies are typically the most difficult to obtain information from.

“Comparatively, it was easier to get information before, though seeking permission from few was necessary, but today, with lots of protocols in place for civil servants, there is a fear and stigma that surrounds many civil servants as they fear losing their jobs and getting into trouble while sharing information in public domain,” said Sangay Rabten.

Chabilal Gurung from The Journalist said, “It was already difficult to get information from government agencies; now it has become a more time-consuming process. However, the media focal points do help reach the right person, but they consume more time. By the time they take to respond, the news loses its relevancy.”

“It’s a great gesture to make the information sharing process systematic, but timeliness is next to impossible,” he added.

Similarly, reporters discuss the challenges of keeping up with the timeliness of the SOP by government agencies.

Thimphu Thromde has not been able to respond to their queries from The Bhutanese newspaper on why they have been charging Greener Way for the use of the waste trucks donated by foreign government. The information request was sent to them on 12 May 2023 and till to this date there is no response to the queries.

Senior reporter Sonam Penjor from the Bhutan Times said, “It’s been a month, and I am waiting to get information from a certain department. They seem to send me to this and that office or to officials.”

He said that when he finally got a chance to talk with them, they seemed to be busy, and he finally gave up on his pursuit of getting the information.

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