Right to Information Audit: A new practice in Nepal

May 07, 2018

Krishna Hari Baskota, The Himalayan Times, 07 May 2018

Right to Information (RTI) Audit is a practice which tells us the effect and status of “right to information”.

Right to Information is fundamental right granted to the citizens by law and constitution. Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada has published a comparative study report on existing RTI laws of 111 countries in the world, in which Nepal has been ranked 27th in the world with the score of 104 out of 150.

The worldwide experience shows that RTI supports good governance and helps to reduce corruption.

The National Information Commission had completed its first RTI Audit in 2016 through ex-secretaries of the government. The second RTI Audit was completed in 2017 through senior journalists.

Ten questions were asked for this audit. The first question of RTI Audit was whether ministries had appointed information officers. The audit found that information officers were appointed at all 31 ministries. But the ministries, it was found, had failed to appoint the officers as per law, which calls for appointment of a joint secretary or under-secretary to the post.

Similarly, as per law, information must be provided to information officers, but the audit found that they were not “as informed”.

The second question was whether the offices were making public their activities through publications every three-four months. Sixteen ministries (52%) had published their work regularly while 15 ministries were found to be not publishing their activities regularly.

The commission has said that publication of July-September, October-December, January-March and April-June period has to be made public within 15 days.  The NIC has implemented Proactive Disclosure Management System (PDMS) for the purpose of this work.

The third question was either separate registers were maintained for demand and supply of information. Each year in India, four million people seek and receive information. Likewise, on an average, in Canada 60,000 people and in Ecuador 25,000 people seek and receive information annually.

RTI Audit conducted in Nepal to identify the position of Nepal in providing information shows that 18 ministries (58%) were maintaining records completely, 12 ministries (39%) were maintaining records partially and one ministry (3%) was not maintaining records at all.

The fourth question was whether the ministries had compiled and integrated details on right to information from their respective offices. The finding shows 22 ministries (71%) were maintaining the details; eight ministries (26%) were maintaining details partially and one ministry (3%) had done nothing. The fifth question sought to know whether there was availability of the display board showing details of information officer with his or her contact number. Twenty-four ministries (77%) were to be doing well. Six ministries (20%) were doing this partially while one ministry (3%) had not put the display board.

The sixth question examined whether the details of information officer and proactive disclosures were updated every three months. It was found that 26 ministries (84%) were updating regularly, five ministries (16%) were doing this partially. The seventh question was asked to identify whether the ministry websites were up-to-date. Twenty-seven ministries (87%) were found to have completely up-to-date websites and four (13%) had done that partially. The eighth question sought to know whether information was being disseminated in a proactive manner. Twenty-one ministries (61%) were found to be doing a satisfactory job while 10 ministries (32%) needed some improvements. The ninth question was related to training for information officers to improve their efficiency.  Information officers of 16 ministries (52) were given trainings but those from 15 ministries (48%) were yet to get trainings. The custom status was evaluated in the last question.

After analysing all aspects, it was found that 11 ministries (35%) were found working as per law. Similarly, 20 ministries (65%) were partially satisfactory. This RTI Audit probably gives the real picture of our ministries when it comes to right to information.

The commission has made 10 suggestions to the government on the basis of the results of this RTI audit.

The first one is adding “imparting information” in Article 27 of the Constitution, which says: “Every citizen shall have the right to demand and receive information on any matter of his or her interest or of public interest.” The second suggestion is that there is a need to make some amendments to the law related to right to information. The third suggestion calls for forming information commissions at the provincial level. The commission has suggested that budget should be stopped for those offices which do not make their activities public in every three-four months and those which fail to appoint information officers. The fifth suggestion is taking out the word “secret” from the employees’ oath. The commission has also asked to take into consideration the applications that come via email seeking information. It has also proposed that the National Action Plan of Open Government Data (OGD) should be implemented.