Renowned legal experts of the country yesterday demanded disclosure of information and evidence of all corruption cases in recognition of people's right to information.

"Information and evidence of each corruption case and the bank accounts of the suspects have to be made public," said jurist Dr Kamal Hossain at a roundtable discussion yesterday.

After people get such information, they will understand that there were incidents of corruption and that their wealth has been plundered, he added.

At the roundtable organised on the second day of a three-day programme marking the Right to Information Day 2007, the legal experts preferred enacting a "right to information (RTI) act" as soon as possible to waiting for an elected government to do it.

They were speaking at a discussion titled "Status of RTI in Bangladesh and its International Standard" in the first session of the roundtable organised by Mass-line Media Centre at the LGED auditorium in association with Manusher Jonno Foundation, Article 19, and the World Bank.

Dr Shahdeen Malik presented the keynote paper at the session chaired by Attorney General Fida M Kamal and moderated by Mass-line Media Executive Director Kamrul Hassan Monju.

Speaking as the chief guest, Kamal Hossain said right to information is recognised as a birthright in the UN Human Rights Charter and Article 7 of Bangladesh's constitution.

"To shape and nurture democracy, people need to know how the country is being run, what decisions the government is taking and why," he said, adding that democracy means accountability to people who hold all powers of the state.

Coming down heavily on the critics of the ongoing state of emergency, he said, "Why are we seeing the lists of 80 persons, 100 persons now? Why couldn't the accountability of the influential people be ensured in the last 15 years? Why wasn't this done when there was no emergency?"

Kamal said even if some of these corrupt people can come out of jail, the 14 crore people of the country will not forget the truth.

Regretting non-formulation of a national human rights commission during the tenure of the last three elected governments, he demanded enactment of an RTI law now. He said modification may be brought later, if needed.

Attorney General Fida M Kamal, former law minister Abdul Matin Khasru, Dr Shahdeen Malik, barrister Tanjib-ul Alam and Dr Golam Rahman of Daffodil University echoed him.

"It is not correct that the law cannot be formulated now. The caretaker government can pass an ordinance now and elected representatives will look into it later to find if there is any mistake," Fida said, adding, "We do not get proper decisions about important issues during the rule of elected governments. So, it is the right time to enact the law."

Shahdeen Malik pointed out that setting up of an elaborate system to provide information on demand will take a long time. "We can initially introduce the system in one ministry and the experience may help dissemination of information from all other ministries," he said.

"If the government agrees in principle to pass the law, the technical matters can be solved later," he said.

On the draft RTI law prepared by a core expert group on invitation of Manusher Jonno, Tanjib-ul Alam said the draft, now under scrutiny at the law ministry, proposes getting access to information of private organisations--NGOs, private educational institutes and pharmaceutical companies, whichever has anything to do with people's lives.

Abdul Matin Khasru and Editor of the New Age Nurul Kabir demanded withdrawal of the state of emergency for discussion on the RTI.

In the second session, Shaila Shahid of The Daily Star presented the keynote paper styled "Women's Access to Information: Role of Woman Journalists".

Human rights activist Dr Hameeda Hossain presided over the session attended by Jose Adgarda L Compas, lead governance adviser of World Bank, and Zafrin Jabin Chowdhury, senior communication officer of Unicef, Bangladesh.

Executive director of Centre for Development Communication Muhammad Jahangir moderated the session.

:The Daily Star: Internet Edition