21 June, 2008 - The concept of the right to information, widely described today as "access to information", is not up for debate. It is guaranteed by the Constitution. The delivery of information is what we are really talking about.
The Constitution grants information as a right to the citizens of Bhutan. For the new political system to work, it is critical that the people are informed as they take up their responsibilities as citizens. So the next step is that all branches of government and the so-called fourth estate, the media, actually provide this information. In Bhutan we are up against two elements that make this process difficult.
The first is that we are not used to sharing information, not even among government organisations. In fact we are more used to protecting information. This is both deliberate and inadvertent. One attempt by the ministry of information to share an information policy last year was stumped by a lack of response from the bureaucracy.
Secondly, we actually do not know how to make information public. And we don't know what information to make public. Specifically, we do not know the difference between information that is classified and information that needs to be widely disseminated.
A solution to the first may be in sight. The new Cabinet is a team that belongs to the same political party and, therefore, share the same platform. This team is bound by the requirement to deliver the mandates spelt out by the Constitution. And they have promises to uphold.
The challenge, however, will be the bureaucracy that might be difficult to budge, as a system. Our politicians will have to make a conscious and consistent effort to push bureaucrats.
The second problem requires an education process. This is not difficult in the sense that we do not need to invent the process. Many countries have well-established information sharing systems, now using the wide reach of the Internet. There is now no excuse for information like jobs, recruitments processes, scholarships, and application forms of all types not being public.
But, like the democratisation process that has overhauled the Bhutanese political system, there is no option. The Constitution spells out our responsibilities in writing. Officials of the three arms of government, the media, and the public are now bound by sacred obligations.
Today, our basic problem is our mindset. We need to understand, and accept, that we are in the service of the people.
Democracies die behind closed doors
Saturday, June 21, 2008