Information seekers should be courteous, practical
Kathmandu, July 24: Good governance is not a new phrase now, as it is dominating the development debates in Nepal. Initiated and whetted by the civil society, the good governance issues gradually drew the attention of diverse sectors, prodding the political leaders in the later years to prioritize it at least verbally when they reach atop the executive power.
However, the efforts and experiences aimed at building good governance indicate that Nepal has to struggle some more years- possibly the decades- to realize the benefits of the good governance in the people’s level.
It has been almost nine years Nepal brought one of the most effective tools to build good governance- Right to Information Act. Both demand and supply sides of the information experienced quite upsetting moments in the initial years, while gradual improvement in the information sharing culture has kindled hope on them of change in the system which results in augmentation of the good governance practices.
Such experience was shared by the RTI campaigners from the local level and employees at the public agencies during a programme in the capital city on Friday.
Narayan Rai, a reporter for a daily newspaper from Dhankuta district, said, “Information seekers were taken as ‘stray dog’ in the beginning. We were quite mistreated at the government offices. Constant follow ups on the information requests obviously prodded them to disclose the information on various topics.”
According to him, the government employees still worry over the disclosure of information, arguing that they could face risk.
It suggests that government employees are not well aware of the RTI Act or are afraid of it, which is in implementation for nine years to boost the good governance practices. It also indicates that they are more worried of their job’s security (because of entrenched privacy culture resulting in misconduct) rather than citizen’s right to be informed. Rai suggests to boost the capacity of the common citizens to enjoy of the benefits of the RTI.
Bishwojit Rai, an information officer at District Development Committee, Udayapur, who represents the supply side of information, shares some similar experience to that of journalist Narayan.
“We take the oath of office and secrecy. This oath urges us not to disclose information. So, keeping secrecy in the government offices was normal,” he said of the initial years of the RTI practices that he many times rejected information sought by various persons.
The information officer further said, we gradually learnt about the importance of information to the people. Sharing information could help make us transparent and accountable, he said, requesting the information seekers to be courteous and practical.
He gives credit to information campaigners for making aware them of the RTI Act. “So embarrassing was the moment when we had to give basketful of information (in paper) after the Appellate Court directed us to provide
the requested information,” Information officer said it was because of our ignorance towards RTI Act.
Another RTI campaigner from Morang district, Raju Shrestha, said, “Corruption is democratized because the government offices still hide information from public.”
All these three and other speakers concluded that the information culture has begun in Nepal, and it was to be strongly established to bolster transparency and accountability, which are the tools to good-governance. Some said the RTI was yet to be ingrained among people, because there was still a concept that RTI was a tool for journalists’ reporting, while the latter said they did not need RTI for information seeking.
They were putting forth their experiences during a seminar organized jointly by the UNESCO, European Union, FNJ, and Citizen’s Campaign for Right to Information in the capital city on Friday.
It was what the views on RTI practices in the country. The conclusion is clear- information sharing culture has just begun, and campaigns are imperative in both supply and demand sides to make common citizens, especially the underprivileged ones- aware of RTI to secure their right to know and contribute to build good governance.