As reported by Shamim Ashraf in thedailystar.net on 21 September 2008:
:The Daily Star: Internet Edition
RTI given go-ahead
The council of advisers yesterday gave final approval to the much-awaited Right to Information (RTI) Ordinance 2008 aimed at ensuring people's right to information.
New posts will be created in most of the government offices and non-government organisations (NGOs). Officials holding those posts will provide people with the information they seek within 20 days of receipt of applications from them, says the ordinance.
But in cases of issues concerning a person's life and death, arrest and release from jail, the officials will have to provide primary information within 24 hours, it says.
The widely-debated law ensures people's right to information from organisations run with public money, and the NGOs using foreign funds, Information Secretary Jamil Osman, who placed the proposal before the council of advisers, told The Daily Star last night.
The law covers government offices down to upazila level.
“The rest of the local government bodies, like union parishads, will be covered by the laws on different local bodies which have provisions for ensuring people's access to information,” the information secretary said.
The RTI ordinance with 36 sections and a schedule of six security and intelligence agencies, which cannot be asked for information, has a list of about 20 instances of exemption from disclosure of information, an official said seeking anonymity.
The government said the new law will increase transparency and accountability, reduce corruption and establish good governance in government offices and NGOs.
Different rights and journalists forums have welcomed the government move terming final approval of the ordinance a 'historic step'.
The advisory council gave final nod to the RTI Ordinance 2008, 94 days after it approved the ordinance in principle, at a meeting chaired by Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed.
Details of the ordinance were not available immediately. It will come into effect after the president signs it.
Under the new law, people will have to pay fees for filing application seeking information. But people living below poverty line will be able to apply in white sheets of paper without paying any fees.
A three-member Information Commission headed by a chief information commissioner will be formed to properly enforce the law and deal with complaints from the information seekers.
“One of the two commissioners will be a woman,” Syed Fahim Munaim, press secretary to the chief adviser, told reporters after the council meeting.
The Information Commission, apart from financial liberty, has been entrusted with the authority to punish or fine officials who will fail to provide primary information on life and death, arrest and release of a person from prison within 24 hours, he said.
The president will appoint the chief information commissioner and information commissioners on the basis of suggestions from a five-member selection committee.
The chief justice will nominate a judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court to head the selection committee. The Speaker will nominate two parliament members -- one each from the treasury and opposition benches-- while the government will nominate one from among eminent citizens.
The cabinet secretary will be the other member of the selection committee.
If any assigned official does not provide information to an information-seeker as per the law, he will have to pay Tk 50 for a day's delay and a total fine not exceeding Tk 5,000, according to a provision of the ordinance.
The ordinance will not cover National Security Intelligence, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, Military Intelligence Directorate, Special Security Force, Criminal Investigation Department of Police and Central Intelligence Cell of the National Board of Revenue.
This provision will not apply if the information concerns corruption and human rights violation.
Welcoming the government move, Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, which has been working for several years for enactment of the law, said, “It is historic. If there is anything that needs to be changed, it can be done later.”
Congratulating the government on its approval of the ordinance, Shawkat Mahmud, president of the Jatiya Press Club, also termed it a historic move.
The information secretary said 99 percent of the NGOs will be covered by the law. “We've tried to ensure maximum disclosure of information. If there is any lapse in the ordinance, there is always a scope to address that,” he said.
Describing implementation of the law as a crucial job, he said the main tasks include forming the information commission, creating information bank and information dissemination system at offices and training up the staff.
Against the backdrop of a longstanding demand, the caretaker government took the initiative to formulate an RTI law as part of its institutional reforms. After an eight-member government-formed body prepared a primary draft in February, opinions from different stakeholders were sought before the information ministry submitted it to the cabinet on June 18.