Low awareness limits success of right to info, The Daily Star, February 07, 2014

Most people in the country are deprived of the benefits of the Right to Information Act 2009 due to a lack of awareness, according to a study.

Around 65 percent of people seeking information from any public agency are not aware of the act, said Stakeholder’s Perception Survey 2013 on Information Commission Bangladesh.

If anyone wants information through the act, they have to fill out a prescribed form. However, the survey found that around 90 percent of information seekers do not use the form; these respondents get information informally from the commission instead.

“This reflects limited awareness regarding the act among actual or potential information seekers,” said Parvez Karim Abbasi, author of the study and a consultant at Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, at an event in Dhaka yesterday.

The law enables citizens to obtain information from most government and non-government authorities within a specific period of time without any state interference.
About 78 percent of respondents admit to facing some trouble while collecting information, the study showed.

The biggest difficulty (53 percent) was in locating the designated officers, followed by the need for frequent visits (47 percent) and a lack of cooperation from the officers (35 percent), it showed.

The survey was conducted on stakeholders and was based on the opinions of 25 designated officers, 5 civil society representatives, 8 NGO officials and 7 journalists.

It also interviewed four high placed officials of the Information Commission in July 2013.

This perception study is part of a project on ‘Strengthening Information Dissemination Capacities of the Key Oversight Institutions in Bangladesh’ supported by German based Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

According to the survey, around 90 percent of information was provided free of cost. In a few cases, the cost was less than Tk 100.

The total number of applications collected from across Bangladesh from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2012 using the RTI Act prescribed form is 7808, said the study.

Among them, 7671 applications were submitted to the authorities and 137 to NGOs.

Of all applications, 97.54 percent received the information needed, 1.33 percent of applications are pending and 1.12 percent was discarded, it said.

Inadequate training, lack of manpower and no additional incentives were cited as key problems by the officers in providing information.

Most stakeholders also felt that the punishment for not complying with the act was insufficient, showed the survey.

Some suggestions put forward by respondents to ensure implementation of the act include decentralising Information Commission up to division levels, modifying archaic laws like Official Secrecy Act 1923, and making the parliamentary standing committees truly functional.

At the event, M Bodiuzzaman, chairman of Anti-Corruption Commission, said the country’s people are facing a crisis of trust.

He stressed the need for cooperation among each government agency to bring more transparency and accountability.

Masud Ahmed, comptroller and auditor general, Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh, said mental barriers, skills deficiency, and a lack of manpower are key reasons behind the officers not being able to give information.

Mohammed Farooq, chief information commissioner of Information Commission, stressed the need for coordination among the oversight agencies by holding meetings regularly.

“In this a digital age, coordination is a must. Through it, we can identify the gaps in each other,” said Farooq Sobhan, president of BEI.

Source: http://www.thedailystar.net/low-awareness-limits-success-of-right-to-info-10261?archive=2014-02-07

07 February, 2014