'Unless the citizens are empowered, RTI will not come into effect'
A total 59% of those who appeal for information under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), 2009, do not get a response from the authorities concerned in the first phase of application, a recent survey has revealed.
The survey, commissioned by World Bank, was conducted by a consortium led by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF). The results were revealed at a convention arranged to celebrate 10 years of the RTI Act, in Dhaka on Tuesday.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, urged government organizations to realize that RTI is needed for their own wellbeing.
“Unless the citizens are empowered, RTI will not come into effect,” she said.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said the culture of hiding information is not new in Bangladesh.
However, Deputy Speaker of parliament Fazle Rabbi Miah claimed the RTI Act had been quite successful over the last decade.
“This act has given the mass people authority over the authorities (government),” he said.
Information Commission Chief Information Commissioner Martuza Ahmed said: “We are trying to ensure that information reaches appellants as soon as possible. It is not always possible to provide information immediately.”
Anyone can appeal for information from government or non-government organizations under the RTI Act in three phases: application, appeal, and complaint. If information provided in the first phase is not satisfactory, then the appellant proceeds to the subsequent phases.
In the first phase, a citizen has to apply to a designated officer of the organization concerned. If the information requested is not given or unsatisfactory, the citizen has to appeal to the appellate authority of the same organization.
If the information requested is still not provided, then the appellant has to file a complaint with the Information Commission, who arranges a hearing and issues a verdict.
According to the survey, 59% of appellants did not get a response from designated officers in the first phase. Among them, 55% won their appeals in the second phase, while 37% received no response from the appellate authority.
Among those who were rejected in the second phase, it was found that 60% of cases were rejected for procedural reasons, while 27% were rejected for “seeking confidential information.” Hasibur Rahman, executive director of Management and Resources Development Initiative, urged to reconsider procedural reasons for rejection.
In the third phase, a total 1,284 complaints were filed with the Information Commission since 2009. The commission needed an average of 73 days to deliver each verdict, and 17% of the complainants did not get the information they had requested even after getting a favourable verdict from the commission.
In addition, third parties in possession of the information requested had to be summoned by the Information Commission in 2.3% of the cases.