The National Council MP from Gasa, Sangay Khandu, must be commended for doing what every MP must aspire to do; which is making good laws to improve good governance.
The National Council as a house must also be commended for taking up a good law for discussion when the political government lacks the will to do so.
The ruling DPT government had promised that the RTI bill would be passed before its term ends in 2013. However, with exactly only two sessions left and with the RTI bill nowhere in sight this promise from DPT is more rhetoric than actual fact especially when at least two sessions are required to pass a bill.
RTI is important because without it Bhutanese democracy is incomplete and many of democracy’s key ideals will be just on paper.
The passing of RTI Act is also a constitutional requirement as the constitution under the fundamental rights says that every Bhutanese has the ‘right to information’.
This government on numerous occasions has stated that creating a ‘democratic culture’ is of utmost importance. Well, democratic culture cannot be created on endless speeches on democracy but it can be only done by passing laws like RTI.
RTI is not just about information sharing, but it is about empowering every Bhutanese citizen with the power of information.
For example with decentralization of powers and resources there are complaints of tyrannical gups that are a law unto themselves. This tyranny stems from the fact that the gup wields the power of information over the local budget, census and other records, and on various clearances like local timber etc.
RTI will empower ordinary farmers with the right to demand information on these issues and keep a check and balance on the gup significantly improving their lives.
Many of today’s big scams from land grabs to embezzlement may not have been possible if RTI was there. This is because all big and small scams are related to either restricting information flow or misusing the exclusive access to information.
For example in Gyelpozhing if local farmers and business people were allowed to have information on the allocation process then the Gyelpozhing land grab would never have happened.
Lack of information flow, which RTI is meant to address, affects even the highest echelons of our government.
The best example is the current taskforce to study the rupee shortage crisis. A similar study was done by the interim government in 2007 that also went into fronting but for some reason this report was not circulated widely in the government.
As a result the government machinery appears no wiser today and is only now relearning lessons that they should have learnt around five years ago.
There is apprehension with regard to the RTI Act in some political circles who feel that the government does not need to be any more transparent or that RTI can hamper decision making.
Transparency does not mean just having regular press meets or having some informative ministry websites. Real and effective transparency is when you open up government decision making at various levels to public scrutiny and accountability.
This is because any country in the world can come up with the best laws and policies but ultimately it is the implementation process that matters. RTI plays a key role in ensuring that the implementation even at the village level is fair and transparent.
One of the reasons that many young democracies fail is that the dictatorship of one is replaced by the dictatorship of the system where those outside it are no wiser. Therefore information sharing is absolutely critical for getting people involved in governance.
Under RTI only those agencies will feel harassed that are highly in transparent or have the wrong reasons to hide information. RTI provides for enough safeguards that ensures that national interest and security or private information that bears no relation to the public space are not revealed.
We may have had elections in 2008 and elected two political parties with some functioning democratic institutions but Bhutan cannot become a full democracy without RTI.
With elections coming closer, politicians have to realize that there is huge political opportunity in passing the RTI as it will improve the lives of people and happy people can only mean happy voters.