Right to Information
Information is power. And democracy is about empowering people. Going by this simple logic, people must have access to information to be empowered. The bridge in between is an Act that will give legitimacy to right to information, a Constitutional provision.
A debate is raging over whether Bhutan needs a Right to Information (RTI) Act. Some say it is not about when but why while others feel if not now, when.
Answering to a question asked by Bhutan Times during the Meet the Press Conference Thursday, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley agreed information is a necessity. However, he said he cannot say if The RTI Act is needed in the country at this juncture of time.
“Thus far, whatever information, whether it’s to the media or to any organization, the government has not withheld any information that is required by the public to know,” said Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley.
“RTI is not yet a priority because the information is still available. We have got so many Bills that are urgent and needs to be enacted. The Parliament is required to enact these Bills as per the Constitution,” he said.
According to Karma Gyeltshen, a civil servant, information is power and to share power is empowering the weakest sections of the society. “It is precisely because of this reason that the Right to Information has been ensured by some developed countries elsewhere,” he said.
While most of the civil servants and media professionals Bhutan Times interviewed had mixed feelings about introducing RTI in the country, the managing editor of Bhutan Observer, Needup Zangpo, said that RTI is one of the central pillars of democracy. “If not now, sometime in the future, it should be introduced in the country,” he said.
He added that with democracy in the country, the introduction of RTI has become “inevitable”.
He pointed out that the government at this juncture does not feel the need though.
Bhutan Observer editor added that information is indispensable for the functioning of a true democracy. People have to be kept informed about current affairs and broad issues whether it is political, social or economic, he said. “Free exchange of ideas and free debates are essentially desirable for the government of a democratic country.”
Tenzin Rigden, the editor-in-chief of Bhutan Today and former press secretary to the Prime Minister opines that RTI as of now is not needed. “In the future, yes”, he said, adding that the present government is transparent and that any information that is required to be reached to the people is not being withheld by the government. He feels that with the change in government in the future, the need for RTI will arise.
Kezang Dema, a corporate employee, is of the view that RTI is a constitutional right as enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom.
“The prerequisite for enjoying this right is knowledge and information,” she said adding that the absence of authentic information on matters of public interest will only encourage wild rumours and speculations and avoidable allegations against individuals and institutions.
However, on the contrary, Sonam Lhamo, a school teacher said that as no right can be absolute, the RTI has to have its limitations. “There will always be areas of information that should remain protected in public and national interest,” she said.
Moreover, she said that this unrestricted right can have an adverse effect of an overload of demand on administration.
“Information has to be properly and clearly classified by an appropriate authority,” she said.