“Fear factor holding back people from practicing their right to information”

Roundtable, RTI

Fear factor among the providers and receivers of information is holding back people’s right to information. Loopholes in the Right to Information Act also obstructs people’s right to know, the speakers noted at the roundtable on ‘Post-RTIA Challenges to Right to Information’, organised by the Institute of Informatics and Development (IID).

Dr. Shamsul Bari, Chairman, Research Initiative, Bangladesh (RIB) chaired the roundtable. Professor Dr. Sadeka Halim, Information Commissioner, Information Commission and Mr. Florus Geraedts, Archivist, Historian, Advisor of Netherlands Archives of Bangladesh (NAB) and BARM Society were the special guests.

Mr Syeed Ahamed, CEO of IID welcomed all of the participants and discussed about the perspective of the roundtable. Among the distinguished guests, Ms. Sharmeen Murshid, CEO, Brotee; Mr. Muhammad Lutful Haq, Executive Director, Champaign for RTI; Mr. Ahmed Swapan, Executive Director, VOICE; Ms. Tahmina Rahman, Regional Director for South Asia on Article 19; Mr. Asif Saleh, Director Communication and Head of the Social Innovation Lab, BRAC were present.

The RTI Act 2009 made it mandatory to keep a Designated Information Officers at every public and private institution and they are legally bound to provide information when requested. If the designated officer fails to provide information, people can appeal to a higher authority, known as Applet Authority, of the same organization. “However, sometimes the Applet Authority discourages the designated officers from providing information. In such case, designated officers become guilty of not providing information, but they cannot complain against the Applet Authority because in most cases, the Applet Authority is their superior and usually the person who writes their Annual Confidential Report”, said Professor Sadeka Halim, the Information Commissioner. “Even the Information Commission is not truly independent since we need approval and keep liaison with at least three Ministries for various supports”, added the Information Commissioner. The speakers also insisted on the need for the legal protection of whistle-blowers who wants to provide information.

“Sometimes people refrain from using the RTIA prescribed form while requesting information, for the fear of losing ‘good relation’ with the government officers”, said Syeed Ahamed, CEO of IID. Application in prescribed form makes it legally binding for an organisation to provide information and often the government offices discourage applicants from using it, he added.

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