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Documentary on Information as Right: use of RTI Act by civil rights activists.

July 26, 2020 By: information Category: RTI Column

 

Documentary on Information as Right: use of RTI Act by civil rights activists- Click for Watch.

Reassuring stories of progress

February 20, 2024 By: information Category: RTI Column

The Daily Star, Thursday, February 15, 2024

Shamsul Bari and Ruhi Naz

People living along the road from Garments Bazar to Boideshirhat in Chirirbandar upazila, Dinajpur were fed up. Road repairs, which began in 2018, had been going on for five years. So, in June 2023, a group of right to information (RTI) activists from the region decided to use the RTI process to try and resolve the inconvenience caused to local residents. Naushad Hossain and a number of his colleagues submitted separate RTI requests to the designated officer (DO) of the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) in Dinajpur. They asked, inter alia, for information including the budget and time frame for the road construction project, the reasons for the delay and the measures taken—if any—to alleviate inconvenience for residents, and to penalise the contractor and government officials involved for their role in the delay. They also wanted to know if and how the public was kept informed.

The RTI law stipulates a time frame for responses to such queries, and Naushad received only partial information within this period, so he launched an appeal to the higher authority of the LGED office. Receiving no response, he filed a complaint to the Information Commission (IC). At its hearing on December 18, 2023, the commission noted the discrepancies between the information sought by Naushad and those provided in the partial disclosure by the DO. Read more

RTI can help our new government fulfil its election pledges

January 16, 2024 By: information Category: RTI Column

The Daily Star, Monday, January 15, 2024

Shamsul Bari and Ruhi Naz

In Bangladesh, a new government has just been sworn in. Elections are held to establish an agreement between electors and the elected to form a government which will run the affairs of the state on behalf of the people for the next few years. The basic element of the agreement is the accountability of the government to the people. Accountability is the pillar on which the entire edifice of democracy is built. It is no surprise, therefore, that the election manifesto of the winning Awami League contained the word “accountable” in its pledge to the nation “to build a public welfare-oriented, accountable and efficient system of governance, with zero tolerance for corruption.” Citizens should help the new government fulfil this commitment. And, fittingly, we have a law that was put in place for this very purpose.

As governments become more adept at manipulating democratic institutions to advance their own goals, mechanisms have evolved to curb such tendencies, such as “right to information” or “freedom of information” laws. These impose a legally enforceable responsibility on governments to ensure transparency in their work and accountability to the people they serve. Read more

Our Information Commission has mettle after all

December 17, 2023 By: information Category: RTI Column

The Daily Star, Friday, December 15, 2023

Shamsul Bari and Ruhi Naz

It has been a regular feature of this column to moan over the slow progress of the Right to Information (RTI) regime in Bangladesh. The excitement witnessed in the early days since the adoption of Right to Information Act, 2009 was soon gone, leaving a few die-hard enthusiasts and NGOs—plus those using the law primarily for personal reasons—to keep the ball rolling. The expectation that our politically conscious citizens would use the law to monitor the government’s work never materialised.

We identified two main reasons for this: the lack of sufficient civil society engagement with the law, and the impassive attitude and lack of leadership of the Information Commission of Bangladesh in nudging the law forward. While the former reason persists, there have been some positive developments on the latter front. Read more

RTI unearths discrimination against female students

November 15, 2023 By: information Category: RTI Column

The Daily Star, Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Shamsul Bari and Ruhi Naz

With so much negative news flooding the media in recent times, a piece of good news has provided some warmth. Bangladesh’s High Court has asked the authorities of a public university to allow pregnant and married female students to remain in the dormitories for the time being. The discriminatory nature of such a restriction has been highlighted and the university has been asked why its recent notice requiring such students to leave the residential hall should not be cancelled or withdrawn.

While the news was widely welcomed, very few realise that this move has come after a series of information requests under the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2009 of Bangladesh were submitted by staff members of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) to 38 public universities between December 2022 and July 2023. They were reacting to news reports published in national dailies alleging that pregnant students were not being allowed to stay in the residential halls of Dhaka University. Read more