A headline story of The Bhutanese published over a week ago read, ‘RTI Bill to die an early death in the National Council.’ Amongst others, it reported that while the bill was supported by some members, it drew criticism from me and one of my colleagues. This upset some readers who expressed their disappointment in the online discussion forums. I was even more upset because we never criticized the draft bill. Whoever his source was, the reporter Minjur Dorji did not cross-check with us, and hence, published wrong information. He denied our right to (give) information on a subject we were associated with.
I have been privileged to introduce the issue of Right to Information (RTI) Act in Parliament by moving a motion in the fifth session of National Council (NC). The NC supported the motion and passed a resolution asking the Royal Government to recognize the RTI Act as a priority law and consider tabling it in Parliament. As a follow-up action on this resolution, I submitted to the Hon’ble Minister of Information and Communications (MoIC) in the sixth session an oral question asking him whether the Royal Government will table an RTI Bill in Parliament.
The Hon’ble Minister stated: the RTI Bill, which was drafted a few years earlier, was undergoing a second drafting process. Some changes and improvements have been made in view of the fact that new media have come in and that there are issues of internet and cyber security. He shared that he would not be able to say when the bill could be tabled in Parliament but that the government is discussing to make this possible during its tenure. He also said that ‘RTI is not low priority. If possible, it has to be given higher priority.’
I refer to the resolution and the question hour of the NC for two reasons. First, I am convinced that RTI, guaranteed by the Constitution will promote transparency and accountability of public officials and therefore, my interest in advocating for it. Second, let alone ignore the importance of RTI, the government is actually working on it. We need to acknowledge that!
An important bill like RTI that will have far reaching consequences on our society must receive the wisdom and input of all stakeholders. Many important bills have taken years before they were tabled in Parliament. For example, the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code, the Penal Code and Contract Bill have taken more than seven years. I find that the government is engaging stake holders and experts to make the RTI Bill even more inclusive. A two-day RTI awareness and sensitization seminar just concluded this week. As a parliamentarian, I will continue to advocate for an RTI Act. However, I would like to believe that the government is in the best position with its resources and expertise to finalize the RTI draft and present it to Parliament.
In relation to the draft RTI Bill circulated to members of the NC, I have recommended that we enquire from the Hon’ble MoIC minister whether the government will table the bill in Parliament. Since he had stated in the Question Hour that it is not a low priority bill, the NC had the responsibility to make this enquiry. Accordingly, an enquiry had been made. I also suggested that the member sponsoring the RTI bill be given an opportunity to present it to the plenary session of NC. Before the bill was presented, I had to take leave of absence from the Hon’ble Chairperson owing to another commitment. Without attending the presentation, I was not in a position either to patronize or criticize the draft Bill. I have confirmed from my colleagues that none of them has told Minjur Dorji, the reporter what he reported about me and my colleague. The Bhutanese, however, maintains otherwise. I respect my colleagues and have confidence in them.
Therefore, the reporter’s questionable source of information and his failure to cross-check it with us resulted in The Bhutanese upsetting some of its readers by wrongfully attributing an action we were not responsible for. As far as RTI is concerned, it is an idea that I will continue to support
Editors Note: Please note that the reporter did try to contact you but your phone was not reachable. The story says ‘criticized the bill’ not ‘opposed RTI’. The source of the information is an NC MP who interpreted your initial feedback as criticism of the private members draft RTI Bill. Also the government has ‘been working’ on a draft since 2008.