Leaders of DCT, DNT and PDP emphasized on the importance and need of the RTI Act during their maiden presidential speech at the first public debate
Discussions on the Right to Information (RTI) Act once again took centre stage as presidents of the Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) supported its legislation during the first presidential debate, Wednesday.
The discussion was sparked by one of the spectators witnessing the debate, who believed that “RTI could help fight corruption and play a vital role.” He asked the presidents how their parties would recognize the importance of RTI Act and to what extent would the party support it if elected to office.
The DNT President Dorji Choden offered full support towards the enactment of the RTI Act. “Democracy involves the participation of every citizen and everyone has the right and is important to know the conduct of the government, financial affairs, allocation and benefits of public funds.”
She said DNT’s main effort is diverted towards strengthening democracy and institute a government that is entirely for the people which is why importance shall be given to RTI.
The DNT president also noted that many people who have resorted to coming up with satirical websites and using pseudo names on social media could be because of no clear laws or fear from voicing out their views in the open.
The DPT president Jigmi Y Thinley was the only president at the debate who was skeptical about RTI. “RTI is very important but we need to analyze if we really need it immediately,” he said.
He said RTI laws must include what information can be provided and what cannot be shared. He explained ours is a young democracy and that we still haven’t got enough intelligence, experience and wisdom to draw the line.
“Countries with RTI are facing many issues today,” the DPT president said.
“What is important to us today is to provide whatever information the media requests for. From my point of view there is no one is keeping information away from the media. Even draft reports of government policies and plans land up in the hands of media,” the DPT president said.
He said RTI laws might endanger the responsibility, growth and functions of the media.
He however stated “it is in our manifesto that the decision on whether to have RTI or not will be taken after thorough consultation with the people. If elected, we will look into the matter,” he concluded.
The PDP president Tshering Tobgay said “when it comes to right to information, PDP looks at it in a different way.”
He cited Article 7.3 of the constitution which provides every Bhutanese with fundamental rights to information. “Which means anyone can request for any kind of information which may include even information that may endanger the sovereignty and security of the country. RTI Act will help categorize or classify information that could be shared and information that shouldn’t be shared even upon request,” the PDP president said.
He also pledged to place the RTI matter on top priority if the party gets elected.
DCT president Lily Wangchhuk said, “DCT will enact the RTI Act to give greater rights to the people and access to government information if we are given the mandate to form the government.”
“In keeping with the constitution’s provision for right to information guaranteed to all citizens, DCT will prioritize reformulation and enactment of RTI Act,” she said.
The DCT president also vowed to ensure that people at all level of the society can exercise their fundamental rights to public information. “To this end we will establish necessary laws and bylaws, rules and regulations, procedures, institutions and implementing agencies to ensure that people have easy access to government information.”
Earlier, the DPT government had promised to have the RTI Act in place which gradually lost priority as the Lyonchhen and senior government officials cited other important issues to cater to.
Later, the government said that it would introduce the bill before the end of its term. Finally, it was made clear that the Bill will not be introduced at all.
In 2008 itself, Lyonchhen in a meeting with senior civil servants said that the RTI would be introduced soon. Information and Communication ministry (MoIC) is the parent ministry responsible for drafting the government’s version of RTI Bill. Former MoIC minister Nandalal Rai had told the National Council (NC) during the 2010 winter session of parliament that the RTI Act would be ready before 2012.
In the 2011 Round Table Meeting with donors Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba in response to a query assured donors that the RTI Bill would come in before the end of this government’s term.
MoIC’s Department of Information and Media (DoIM) had come up with a final draft just before the last session of the first parliament but the cabinet already decided not to introduce any new bills in the last session.
Despite many talks, debates and discussions about the Right to Information (RTI) Bill, the Bill was not introduced within the tenure of the DPT government.
The Gasa NC member, Sangay Khandu attempted to introduce the RTI Bill as a private members bill during the ninth session of parliament in June 2012.However; this was shelved after the move failed to garner enough votes.
When asked for his observations, Sangay Khandu who has been reelected to office said “I am very happy and hopeful that in the next five years the level of discussions on RTI will reach newer heights.”
He said the focus now seems to be shifting from the “need of RTI to what kind of RTI we want. I think presidents of the three parties acknowledged this importance.” The only different view he said was “one of the leaders actually felt that we might have to weigh the pros and cons carefully which I agree to.”
Councilor Sangay Khandu also observed that many of the elected NC members were in favor of RTI and that there would be more supporters this time around.
He said “it gives me hope and reasons to believe that there will be more discourse and expect for discussions in the parliament on the matter.” He also said “if the political party who ever gets elected does not bring up the issue, I will only be very happy to travel across the country to educate people on RTI. So, if at a point of time, I feel that there has to be intervention from private members, I will be happy to once again build some consensus within the pocket of parliament to bring the debate into the parliament.”