Massive awareness campaign about the Right to Information Act is very urgent to ensure its effective implementation, and to get benefits from the law, said discussants at a seminar yesterday.
Most of the people do not know about the law, though five years have already passed after its enactment. The government, mass media and NGOs should work together to encourage the people to use the law, they viewed.
Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) in cooperation with Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) organised the seminar titled "Section-7 of the Right to Information Act, 2009" at Brac Centre Inn in the capital.
The function mainly discussed section-7 of the act that listed 20 types of information which are not mandatory to be provided by any authority.
These categories include information relating to state security and sovereignty, foreign policy, intellectual property, public security, contempt of court, cabinet decision, any investigation process and prejudicial to the rights of the House of the Nation.
MRDI Executive Director Hasibur Rahman said the law was enacted to protect peoples' right to information and ensure transparency and accountability in government and non-government offices.
But some authorities do not provide information by misinterpreting and misusing section-7. It may jeopardise the main target of the law, he said.
Hasibur placed a series of recommendations, which were prepared on the basis of a survey conducted on 242 people by the MRDI from February to August, to revise the section.
A clause that said "any such information that may, if disclosed, impede the process of investigation" are not mandatory to be provided, can be amended as "any such information that may, if disclosed, impede the process of investigation and the process of taking a final decision", according to the recommendations.
Two subsections -- "any such information which is, according to the law, liable to be published only for a certain period of time" and "any such information pertaining to a governmental purchase process before it is complete or a decision has been taken about it"-- may be omitted, he proposed.
Hasibur also suggested that different subsections, which talked about almost the same issues, be merged together.
Other recommendations include -- clarifying all the subsections in detail, developing Information Disclosure Policy for all government and non-government institutions, and setting up help-desk and updating information preservation system at all offices.
Addressing the function as chief guest, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said restrictions on providing some types of information had been imposed for the security of the state and society as well as for protecting institutional and individual dignity. "It might be amended, if comprehensive suggestions and demand come from all stakeholders," he added.
MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said, "We need to collect more evidence of how section-7 is being misused. Then we can show the authorities concerned in which sectors the right to information act does not work properly." Additionally, interest should be raised among the public about using the act more and more, she added.
Former information commissioner Prof Sadeka Halim cited different examples in the education sector where authorities show reluctance to disclose information, misusing the section.
Journalist Farid Hossain, also the CEO of INFOCUS, moderated the function which was also attended by Chief Information Commissioner Mohammad Farooq, Information Commissioner Nepal Chandra Sarker, and journalist Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul.