International Day for Universal Access to Information
RTI and sustainable development
Right to Information (RTI) is one of the fundamental principles of the modern governance. The old era of governance marked by covert proceedings by government that allowed concealment of information from the general people. However, the advent of new era of governance that depends on people-centric model effectively put an end to an era of secrecy and promoted the dissemination of the crucial information to the general people. Therefore, over the years information had found its place among the core human rights.
Therefore, a host of nations has enshrined the "right to information" act in their legal framework in order to ensure a robust democracy as well as facilitate the citizen well-being. The free dissemination of the information without any impediment from the government is one of the prerequisites of the development of a country as free flow of information act as an enabling environment for the improvement in other arena of governance and economic development of the country. Hence, right to information constitute an important goal of the Agenda 2030--which seeks to ensure sustainable development.
SDG Goal 16 envisages peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. It emphasises on access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. This SDG goal stipulates important targets for combating corruption, increasing public participation and public access to information and inclusion of public in the governance procedures. Besides, The Target 16.10 of SDG implementation set plans to "ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in tandem with national legislation and international agreements" while Target 16.10.2 exhort member countries to adopt and enshrine constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information.
Therefore, the right to information is an indispensable goal in attaining Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In addition, ensuring right for unfettered information is also important in facilitating other SDG goals. In view of the salience of the right to information in the attainment of SDG goal and Agenda-30, Indicator 16.10.2 on access to information has now been promoted to Tier I from Tier II-- further underscoring the central role of information in facilitating the achievement of other SDG targets.
In the context of Bangladesh, the right to information is one of the fundamental rights. Although the right hasn't stipulated directly in the constitution, however the right to information is consistent with several articles of the constitution of Bangladesh. The right to access information is an integral part of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and expression. Therefore, it can be argued that the right to information is implicit in several articles of the constitution of the republic of Bangladesh.
However, the right hadn't been formalized in any legal instruments until 2009. Bangladesh government promulgated the Right to Information Act, 2009 for ensuring the free flow of information to the citizens to attain good governance.
The act has played decisive role in ensuring a stable and robust administration in Bangladesh that is accountable to government. This marks revolutionary changes from the earlier model of administration--that rested on the expertise of the civil servants and overlooked the citizens participation in the government. However, there are glaring discrepancy between the demand-side and supply-side of the RTI act. While demand for information among the citizens and RTI enthusiasts is buoyant, however the government official remain lukewarm to such an act which curtail their previous unconditional clout. Reconciling the divergent forces is one of the foremost challenges in the path of ensuring the RTI act.
These paradox had all the more evident when a journalist was incarcerated for alleged violation the colonial era Official Secrets Act(1923) which seek to conceal the government documents from the scrutiny of the general public. However, these and other laws of similar kind has the unintended consequences of abetting the rough civil servants in exploiting such obsolete repressive legal frameworks so as to conceal their illicit activities. Therefore, these legal frameworks stand in the way of implementation of the SDG and other development goals.
RTI can play paramount role in the attainment of the SDG in Bangladesh. The RTI will ensure better participation of the citizens in the crucial decisions of the government by holding the government officials accountable. RTI had been utilized previously by the citizens to seek their right to government social services and other government services. Besides, proper implementation of the RTI act will serve as a deterrent against unchecked corruption of the unscrupulous public servants as they will be dissuading from engaging in any shady activities.
Besides, because of internet and social media, the propaganda and other anti-government misinformation finds a congenial condition in an information-scarce environment. When there is a dearth of credible information, the conspiracy theories and propaganda run riot. This misinformation has far-reaching consequences for the society and economy of the country as such misinformation erodes the peoples' trust on government and engenders cynicism on the part of the citizens. In this context, the RTI act can play a decisive role by pre-disclosure of the consequential government procedure and making the government more transparent and accountable.
Moreover, right to information is one of the fundamental rights of the 21st century governance model as people-centrism has gained salience in the government consideration. Right to Information, therefore, marked a revolutionary break from covert governance models by incorporating individual in the governance procedures and by making the government accountable to the citizens it serves.
In the context of attainment of SDG goals and Agenda 30, Right to Information (RTI) will act as a catalyst in enabling the facilitation of the SDG goals in socio-economic sector. Besides, attainment of the SDG goals requires attainment of SDG goal 16 that requires ensuring right to information.
The writer is a student, Department
of International Relations,
University of Dhaka