Govt’s information gag draws flak

Kathmandu, November 12

The government’s decision not to disclose Cabinet decision to mediapersons on the same day has drawn flak from rights activists, governance experts, opposition parties and even from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting had taken important decisions, including the one naming Nepal’s ambassadors to India, Malaysia and the UAE, but the government spokesperson, Minister of Communication and Information Gokul Baskota, had said that the media would come to know of the decisions at an appropriate time.

Nepali Congress lawmaker Minendra Rijal, who is also former information and communications minister, flayed the government’s decision to hide Cabinet decisions from the press. He said the government’s latest move reinforced his doubt that the government would curtail the democratic process.

Former chief secretary Bimal Koirala said after the 2006 political change the government decided to make public Cabinet decisions the same day. “It is in the interest of the public if the government makes public its Cabinet decisions the same day,” he opined.

The Government (Business Transaction) Rule stipulates that the government spokesperson can keep classified information secret but can reveal other information to the public even before the Cabinet takes formal decisions.

Public Hearing Committee Chair Laxman Lal Karna said the government should immediately disclose information related to issues not concerning national security. “If the government hides a decision from the public, it will kill the spirit of democracy,” he said.

Talking to THT, a ruling NCP leader condemned the government’s decision not to reveal Cabinet decisions to the public the same day.

Vice-president of Transparency International Nepal Sabita Bhandari Baral said, “If the government does not disclose decisions immediately, it can change its decisions at any moment. That is not good for democracy.”

Chief Information Commissioner Krishna Hari Baskota said in democracy activities of the judiciary, legislature and executive should be transparent.

Executive Director of Freedom Forum Taranath Dahal said mediapersons kept waiting outside Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s residence for the Cabinet decisions till late evening but were denied information about the same.

“The government’s decision to withhold information has directly affected the constitutionally guaranteed right to information and freedom of expression,” he said. He added that the government’s move adversely affected civil rights and political freedom, as opaqueness would lead to corruption and bad governance. He said the government had to adhere to constitutional and legal provisions that ensured citizens’ right to information on issues of public importance.

Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota said the government had no intention of hiding information, but wanted to release information in a more systematic manner, as following a cooling period of 48 hours was the standard rule. It may be mentioned that Cabinet decisions were disclosed to mediapersons after a 48-hour cooling period prior to the 2006 Janaandolan.