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Right to information laws confined to paper in South Asia‚ say experts



KATHMANDU: Right to information (RTI) laws lack teeth in the South Asia region because of their poor implementation status, experts pointed at a programme today.

Experts said this at an interaction on ‘Challenges in the Implementation of Right to Information Laws in South Asia. Dr Ram Krishna Timilsina, RTI expert, said government officials are hiding information instead of sharing them. “Officials are neither mentally ready to share information nor do they have a mechanism to enforce RTI laws,” he said.

“Instead of taking the oath of secrecy while joining government services, officials should pledge to unveil secrets.”

Formulated in 2007, RTI laws envision protection of the people’s right to get information from the government. “However, the laws remain on paper,” Timilsina noted, adding, “Nepal’s media sector has also failed to use RTI laws.”

Good governance activist Kedar Khadka said government officials are least bothered about implementing the laws. “Activism has begun, but we have yet to encourage people to seek information,” he said.

Venkatesh Nayak, Indian expert with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said implementation status of RTI laws in South Asia remains poor. “RTI is a tool for controlling corruption, maintaining transparency and ensuring social justice,” he said. “Government officials do not share information due to fear of disclosure of corruption and poor service delivery or performance.”

Nayak further said, “The rule of law has become a privilege of rich people and government officials.”

By daring to share information, government officials can help ensure democratic governance and rule of law, he said.

In South Asia, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan have adopted RTI laws. “Nepal’s RTI Act is better in the region,” Nayak said.

“People also should seek information, which is their fundamental right in democracy, for effective implementation of RTI laws,” he said adding that less than one per cent of population in India uses RTI laws.

Axel Plathe, UNESCO representative to Nepal, said RTI is the backbone of democracy and human rights, but status of their implementation is similar in South Asia due to sociopolitical challenges.

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