Not many would know that RTI covers not just government agencies but also political parties and NGOs funded by foreign agencies
It's been 14 years since the Right to Information (RTI) Act was enacted by the parliament and came into force in Nepal. Actually, the 1990 Constitution, promulgated soon after multi-party democracy was ushered into the country, recognised this right as a fundamental citizens' right, making Nepal the first country in South Asia to do so. It allowed everyone the right to be informed about government or non-governmental public activities, except when the law explicitly barred it. RTI is synonymous with democracy, as its objective is to make the functions of the state open and transparent and make it responsible and accountable to its citizens through continuous disclosure of information even when they do not seek it. Access to information has also been recognised for its role in combatting corruption, an evil that Nepal has been trying to eradicate with little success.
Although it is mandatory to update information about government or non-governmental offices periodically – every three months – this has not been practised. Even the ministries have not published all the required information on their websites. Most of the public bodies today have information officers, but there are complaints about them being not very helpful to give accurate information to the public.
RTI becomes all the more important during a crisis, such as the big earthquake that Nepal had to endure in 2015, floods and landslides that regularly disrupt highways and life in the country, or during the coronavirus pandemic that we are living with.
Failure to proactively disseminate information of public importance during an emergency, as was seen during the 2015 calamity, did great gross injustice to the people. In the current context, with new variants of the virus surfacing every now and then, or rumours of another lockdown anytime soon, people have the right to know what measures the government is taking to bring COVID-19 under control and give a boost to the economy. It seems there is not much awareness about RTI in Nepal with most of the information seekers being either media persons or RTI activists. There is also a gender imbalance among information seekers, as was revealed during a national symposium on 'Women's participation in RTI' in the capital the other day. According to a paper presented, out of the 446 requests for information made at the National Information Commission in 2020-21, only 13 were made by women.
Not many would know that RTI covers not just government agencies but also political parties and non-governmental organisations funded by foreign governments and international bodies. People would definitely like to know how the parties source their funds to carry out such grand conventions and rallies or where and how NGO money is being spent.
Citizen involvement is a must if RTI is to become robust.
This, however, cannot happen as long as people are unaware of their right to information or indifferent to it. Thus, there is a need to educate the citizens about RTI, targeting such vulnerable groups as women, rural folks and disadvantaged people. The RTI provisions would also need to be extended beyond Nepal's citizens as the country tries to rope in foreign investment for its development.
Information and communications technology (ICT) has converted the entire world into a global village.
With the advent of the internet, people can share their ideas and products all over the world. Internet service has also helped students, researchers, entrepreneurs and others to avail useful materials from all over the world. However, the ICT can become a headache for the community if it is misused.
In a recent case, police have arrested a person from a rented rood at Anamnagar on charges of promoting obscenity through his unregistered YouTube channel – Sathibahai Online TV. Police have found him to be posting obscene materials with sexual connotations.
Young people are easily lured to such materials, which may tempt them to take drugs or engage in sexual violence. The concerned government agencies should not let unregistered online channels operate and must take strict legal action under the Cybercrime Act if anyone is found guilty of doing so.
Freedom of speech and right to information, guaranteed by the constitution, do not mean one can write and post anything s/he wishes. It is also the duty of all citizens to report to the police if they find such activities taking place in their neighbourhood.
A version of this article appears in the print on December 29, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.