BANGLADESH: Info commission waits for office space, rules

Chief information commissioner also says current budget is inadequate for implementing Right to Information law and a new budget proposal has been submitted

The Daily Star
Saturday, August 29, 2009

By M Abul Kalam Azad

The government has neither framed any rules nor set up an office for the Information Commission formed two months ago, which is delaying enforcement of the Right to Information Act, 2009 and depriving citizens of information.

Failing to get an office, the commission recently started working temporarily at the National Institute of Mass Communications without any office staff or logistics support.

"We could not start working in full swing mainly due to not having an office," said Chief Information Commissioner M Azizur Rahman. "We also do not have any manpower but we are going to NIMCO regularly to prepare the rooms provided to us for official use, holding meetings and doing the primary tasks," he told The Daily Star.

After the formation of the commission on July 1, it sought a place somewhere in Dhaka to set up the head office. The information ministry then wrote to the housing and public works ministry for allocation of a building to house the Information Commission's office. As no place was found, the commissioner was provided four rooms at NIMCO.

Two other information commissioners are retired secretary Mohammad Abu Taher and Prof Sadeka Halim of the department of sociology of Dhaka University.

"Our first priority is to set up a well-equipped office so that we can start implementation of the RTI," said the chief information commissioner, hoping that the government would soon find a place to establish a fully-fledged office.

Asked whether the commission would be ready to give information sought by citizens within 90 days as per the law, Aziz said, "It depends on how quickly rules of the act are framed and how fast we make the government offices ready to provide information."

He said a draft of the rules is ready and hoped that the law ministry would finalise that in a meeting scheduled for next week.

He also said the government should immediately recruit people for the commission and provide them with sufficient logistics support so that the groundwork can be completed without further delay and a campaign can be launched across the country to make people aware of their right to information.

The commission made a proposal for 78 staff and an organogram for approval of the government.

"We must tell people first how and to whom they should ask for information and how it can benefit them," said Aziz, a retired secretary.

The Awami League government allocated Tk 2.2 crore in the 2009-10 fiscal year's budget for the commission but Aziz termed the amount inadequate. He said they recently submitted a fresh proposal to allocate Tk 4 crore.

According to the law, information delivery units will have to be set up and an officer has to be appointed at every government office to provide information sought by citizens. Information ministry sources said the process was underway to set up the units and appoint officers.

"I was told by the information ministry that some 400 information officers have so far been selected while the information delivery units were being formed at offices," said Aziz.

The government on July 1 formed a three-member Information Commission with which the act came into effect.

Earlier the act -- except three of its provisions, demand for getting information, disposal of appeals against refusal to provide information and lodging complaints with the commission against such refusal -- was enforced with retrospective effect from October 20, 2008.

Every citizen now has the right to get information and in case of being denied one can file complaints with the commission against the official/s concerned, according to the law.

The commission shall function independently and supervise the general activities related to people's right to information. It will have the power of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It will receive complaints against any authority for refusing to provide information.

If any official refuses to provide information, the individual concerned can file an appeal with the Information Commission. The official concerned, if found guilty, may be penalised Tk 50 for each day of delay in providing the information but the total amount shall not exceed Tk 5,000.

People seeking public information will have to apply in writing/prescribed forms or by e-mail to the designated officers by paying a reasonable fee to be fixed for the specific information.