Today is the 12th International Right to Know Day-2014. Freedom of information organizations and advocates around the world are celebrating the day with activities to raise awareness of the Right to Information or RTI.
In Nepal too, the organizations of RTI practitioners and advocates are marking the day by organizing several activities to highlight its importance and remind stakeholders of their obligation for effective implementation of the right to information.
The nascent movement of Nepal´s Right to Information (RTI) has passed through a spate of landmark achievements; however it is yet to reach to the target groups in a way to trigger changes in the day-to-day life of unattended, poor and disadvantaged people.
The movement had presumably begun to explore a sustainable solution to deficit governance and democracy provided improved access to information as a right enables citizens to demand evidence-based accountability and engage in the decision-making process.
One of the important promises of RTI is to change the landscape of supply-driven traditional governance model. However, it still needs to go a long way to put citizens at the centre stage of governance. The legislative and institutional mechanism of the RTI is already in place accompanied with growing realization of its essence and emergence but it has not been realized and practiced as a governing policy of the public agency.
"The current implementation of the RTI legislation is moderate which is somehow obvious in the formative days. The information request, a crucial and constructive act to pile pressure for its implementation, has been confined to a handful of development workers and activists", said Dr Ram Krishna Timalsena, an RTI expert.
He noted, "For the RTI to deliver its promised results, it should be reached out to the target people who are really suffering due to bad practices of governance, poor service delivery and deep-rooted culture of secrecy",
Nepal’s Right to Information Act came into effect on 20 August 2007. Following seven years of its enforcement, the legislation is still being tested whether it can be an effective instrument to materialize its claims for making state functionaries open as well as the transformation of society.
"The established paradigm and practice of logo-centrism (centralist notion) is being challenged with growing demand for information from the bottom" said Nepal´s noted RTI activist Taranath Dahal. "The right to information law has enabled every citizen with a powerful weapon to demand accountability and proactive transparency from public bodies. With the RTI law in place, the power has been shifted to the citizens but it depends on the use"
Sharing his experience in requesting strategic information from diverse public agencies, Dahal, also the Chairperson of Freedom Forum, an organization crusading for the right to information, claimed, "A vibrant demand side is always important for RTI to function effectively as one cannot reach the fathom of its power without requesting information".
The RTI legislation has opened up people´s access to publicly important information that could largely affect their lives but in practice they are weak and helpless. "There is no real awareness among public at local level to go through the information request process. Likewise, the frontline government nodal officers are also not much aware about the process to provide information in line with the Act", said Nodanath Trital, an RTI campaigner, who has so far registered 500 information requests.
The right to access public records and documents with evidence is the beauty of right to information law and the most basic tool that citizens have in holding their state to account is the power to demand information.
"Demanding information and using them for public goods has offered me an opportunity to become an active citizen. My experience shows that RTI is a tool to make democracy function since its use engages both information providers and requesters", Trital added.
Likewise, another RTI activist and journalist Babita Basnet said through the reach of right to information has been on the rise of late it has to be used for the empowerment of weaker section. She added, "The decentralization of information with RTI legislation in place has expanded its scope of information-enabled participatory governance at the local level as well".
Now is the time to activate demand side to request information and make proactive disclosure provisions of the right to information laws an indispensable component of governance policy of every public agency.
The making of ´information culture´ requires mutual accountability of demand side and supply side so collaborative approach is imperative to sustain the movement and distribute its fruits to the larger section. It becomes further effective when it touches the base of the poor and disadvantaged people of the country.