‘Info gag on Cabinet decisions against constitution, RTI Act’

Kathmandu, November 17

Lawyers have called the government move to withhold Cabinet decisions from the press and  public for a week as acting against the spirit of the constitution and Right to Information Act 2007.

Senior Advocate Dinesh Tripathi said the decision violated the Right to Information Act, which stipulated that information should be disseminated immediately.

“Although Rule 34 of the Government of Nepal (Performance) Rules stipulates that the Cabinet can withhold its decision for 24 hours, this rule cannot override provisions of the RTI Act,” he said and added that according to the spirit of law any decision of a public office should be made available to the public without ‘colouring, manipulating or manufacturing’. He said delay in revealing Cabinet decisions would lead to opaqueness, corruption and wrongdoing.

“What is the intention behind suppressing Cabinet decisions in this age of information when the government talks of e-governance and when people want to know what is happening in public offices?” Tripathi asked.

He said countries that followed rules of transparency and right to information had improved their governance index and prevented abuse of power, while countries that allowed public offices to keep their conduct secret had failed on the governance front.

Tripathi said withholding information not only affected citizens’ right to information, but also their freedom of expression and right to participate in governance. Citizens can form sound opinions only when they get correct information immediately. If the Cabinet withholds information for a week, citizens will be deprived of this right, he argued.

Another Senior Advocate Yadunath Khanal said the motive behind the government’s move to withhold Cabinet decisions from the public was frightening. “In this age of information technology, the public wants immediate information of government decisions,” he added.

Khanal said delayed dissemination of information was tantamount to denying information to the public.

Advocate Om PrakashAryal said the government had the obligation to disseminate all information that were not classified to the public.

“Some Cabinet decisions come into force immediately and if people do not have

the right to know, that cannot conform with democratic rules,” he said and added that the government’s recent decision to withhold Cabinet decisions for a week was an autocratic move ‘consistent with some of its recent ‘autocratic moves and policies.’

Aryal said right to information was a fundamental right and it was being violated by the government’s new move.  “The government has said it will withhold Cabinet decisions for a week, but in democracy, the government has no power to withhold decisions even for a minute,” he argued.

Section 4 of the RTI Act stipulates that public bodies make information public so as to make the citizens’ access to information easy and to conduct its functions openly and transparently.