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Role of Information Commission in Protecting Common People’s Right to Information (RTI) in Bangladesh

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Focus Keyword: Right to Information in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2009 is the upshot of a long-term procedure. In 1983, with the aim of fortifying the democratic system, the Press Council recommended the government to introduce a law that would ensure the common people’s right to information. In 2003, the Law Commission submitted a draft outline of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to the government. At a time, the civil societies, representatives of NGOs, print and electronic media, journalists, politicians, educationists and many others raised their voice and prepared a platform in favour of RTI Act. Followed by this movement, the RTI Ordinance was promulgated in 20th October, 2008 leaving it for approval by the Parliament. The subsequent elected government, passed the Right to Information Act, 2009 in the first session of the 9th Parliament and the Act was published in Bangladesh Gazette on 6th April, 2009.

To guard and ensure the “Right to information (RTI)” in Bangladesh, the Information Commission was established under the RTI Act on 1st July 2009. The Information Commission is a statutory independent body which receives its legal mandate from the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Freedom of thought, conscience and speech is recognized in the Constitution as one of the fundamental rights (Article 39, the Constitution of The People’s Republic of Bangladesh); and right to information is an inalienable part of freedom of thought, conscience and speech. The RTI Act is the only Act in Bangladesh, the objective of which is to check ‘empowerment of common people’ through giving information. People’s empowerment is intimately related with their human rights. The Act also aims to reduce corruption and ensure good governance, transparency and accountability in all public and private organizations.

As per the mandate of the Act, the Commission consists of a Chief Information Commissioner and two other Information Commissioners including a woman. The President shall appoint them on the recommendation of the Selection Committee comprising of 5 members. The Commissioners shall be selected from amongst the persons with broad knowledge and experience in law, Justice, Journalism, education, science, technology, information, social service, management, or public administration. The Commissioners will hold their office for a period of 5 years or attainment of 67 years and they may resign before completion of the tenure by writing to the President. They can be removed from their office by the President in like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Court.

The Commission is responsible for undertaking five main types of functions– issuing directives and guidelines, conducting research and advising the government on improving the access to information regime and compliance with international instruments, building institutional capacity, conducting promotional activities, and resolving complaints. The Commission has been authorized to issue directives and guidelines including “regulations” to guide and direct “authorities” in preparing and publishing lists of information that would be available free of cost. Compliance with the regulations is obligatory. The Commission is a quasi-judicial forum and has the power to act as a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.

According to the RTI Act, it is obligatory to appoint a Designated Officer in every government and non-government organizations (N/GOs) who would provide the sought information to the applicants following the regulations and exceptions of the law in exchange of the determined fee. If the Designated Officer fails to provide information within 20 (twenty) working days from receiving the request, the applicant can forward the appeal to the Appellate Authority, and failing to obtain information from there would allow the person to file a complaint to the Information Commission. The Commission therefore will imply the authority of the Civil Court to summon the involved parties and resolve the issue through conducting hearing process and other formalities.

The whole RTI mechanism is based on tripartite representation model. Common people seek information (demand side), Designated Officers provide information (supply side) and the Information Commission resolves the disputes between supply side and demand side. Till now there are 926 complaints filed in the Commission, all of these have been disposed by the Commission. Thus, the Commission facilitates direct access of the common people in all N/GOs by ensuring free flow of information.

The Information Commission is doing relentless effort to implement the RTI Act and ensure the RTI of people. In order to create mass awareness about the law, as of June 2015, the Commission arranged public sensitization meetings in 64 districts and 19 Upazilas; and trained 16101 Designated Officers, journalists, teachers, police officers and others.

By virtue of RTI Act, the poor and indigent women of remote villages are now getting information of government safety net programs including VGD, VGF cards and maternal health vouchers. Farmers and fishers are now seeking and getting information which promotes their lives and livelihoods. Environmentalists are using RTI Act as a tool to ensure accountability in environmental governance. Victims of natural disasters are getting information about relief and rehabilitation. Even the peoples of marginalized and excluded communities like dalits are now getting information and enjoying their rights.

The responsibility of implementing the RTI Act, though largely lies on the Information Commission, the other influential institutions of the society e.g. private organizations, corporate offices, print and electronic media, people’s representatives, politicians and the common people have a lot to do for the proper implementation of this Act as well.

Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal

Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal

LLM Student in International Law at South Asian (SAARC) University, New Delhi, India
Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal is currently pursuing LLM in International Law at South Asian (SAARC) University, New Delhi, India. He serves as an Editor in Chief of the Bangladesh Law Digest (BDLD).
He is more interested to do research on different environmental issues in Bangladesh. He has already written a good number of articles on environment adjudication of Bangladesh and some of them have already been published in various law journals and dailies.
Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal
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