One of the main factors that led to the Gyelpozhing land grab was the refusal by the plot allotment committee members to share information on plot allotments with eligible applicants.
This blanket of in-transparency was used by the allotment committee members to carry out illegal and unethical allotment of plots to those that were not eligible.
Gyelpozhing is a classic example of how corruption thrives in a system that is in-transparent and has no legal obligation on it to share information.
In the Gyelpozhing case while individual accountability is important, what is more important is to correct this system of secrecy, in-transparency and unaccountability which allowed Gyelpozhing to happen. This system in many ways is still prevalent today.
It is in this context that the Right to Information Bill assumes more importance than ever as an important tool that can fix the system and allow ordinary citizens to be informed and aware of what is happening to them.
If an RTI or similar transparency law existed then the Gyelpozhing scam among others would either never have occurred or would have been stopped at the start.
This is because under RTI once Gyelpozhing residents filed a request for information it would have been legally mandatory for the plot allotment committee members to share information on the allotment process. The committee knowing in advance that any illegal decisions would become public would refrain from committing any mistakes.
The information petition filed by the residents would also alert those taking or accepting land that they are getting into a legal and ethical minefield which would soon come under the public glare.
Timely information in this way helps victims by stopping the illegal act and also helps potential perpetrators by preventing them from going against the law.
One of the main observations looking at the allotment list is a clear and visible attempt by the Speaker and his allotment committee members to not only reward their own but also curry favor with a cross section of the high and mighty.
This is another major flaw of the system which encourages people to serve their bosses and superiors for personal advancement rather than being accountable to the people. This unhealthy culture had become such a strong trend that some even had the courage to violate Royal Kasho’s issued by the Fourth King who issued it to prevent such practices.
In a democracy the main principal is that elected leaders are accountable to the people. For the sake of good governance, democratic participation and transparency accountability cannot be only sought only once every five years at the ballot box. It has to be sought more importantly in between these five years by having mechanisms like the Right to Information that empowers ordinary citizens to at least be aware of what is happening to him or her and then take the necessary action.
Right to Information law is recognized and advocated internationally as a best practice law that prevents corruption, improves citizen’s participation in a democracy and leads to good governance and transparency.
With the ACC report on Gyelpozhing there will now be a rush to hold individuals accountable which is important, but it will also be equally if not more important to hold the system accountable and take concrete and long term measures to improve it.
A strong Right to Information law will be a big step in that direction.