Draft RTI Bill

The government will table the Right to Information Bill during the first session of the Second Parliament. The cabinet is still discussing the draft bill, and would appreciate your comments. Thanks in advance.

 

Draft Right to Information Bill, 2013

PREAMBLE
Whereas, the Right to Information  upholds the principles of gross national happiness through good governance, it is essential to ensure an informed citizenry, to secure access to information held by public authorities, and to promote governmental transparency and accountability; and
Whereas, Section 3 under Article 7 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan guarantees the right to information to a Bhutanese citizen;
The Parliament of Bhutan at its _____ Session, on the _____ Day of the _____ Month of the ____________________ Year of the Bhutanese Calendar, corresponding to the _____ Day of __________ 20__, hereby enacts the Right to Information Act, as follows:
CHAPTER 1 – PRELIMINARY
Short Title and Commencement
1. This Act shall:
(1) be called the “Right to Information Act”;
(2) come into force on the _____ Day of the _____ Month of the ____________________  Year of the Bhutanese Calendar, corresponding to the _____ Day of __________ 20__.
Scope
2. This Act shall:
(1) extend to all citizens of Bhutan; and
(2) all branches and levels of government, including the executive, legislative, judiciary and military as well as private bodies  carrying out public functions or receiving public funds.
Construction
3. In this Act, the singular shall mean plural and masculine shall mean feminine wherever applicable.
Repeal
4. The provisions of existing laws and regulations that are inconsistent with this Act are hereby repealed.
CHAPTER 2 – RIGHT TO INFORMATION AND ORGANIZATIONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Right to Information
5. Except as provided in this Act, every citizen shall have an enforceable right to official information as defined in section 74(4).
6. This Act shall be interpreted so as to advance the purposes of the right to information which include fostering citizen participation in governance, promoting government accountability, combating corruption, promoting a fair and competitive business environment and promoting personal dignity.
Responsibility of the Head of the Public Authority
7. A public authority shall, within three months of the enactment of this Act, designate as many IMOs in all administrative units or offices under it as may be necessary to provide information to persons requesting for the information under this Act.
8. The general supervision and ultimate responsibility for the functions of a public authority under this Act shall vest with the head of the public authority, who shall act through Information Media Officers (IMOs).
Manner and Form of Maintenance of Official Information
9. Regardless of the format, each public authority shall maintain its official information in an organized fashion, duly catalogued and indexed, in a manner that promotes the right to information under this Act.
10. Each public authority shall:
(1) maintain its official information in a variety of easily reproducible formats; and
(2) ensure that official information in response to a request under this Act is furnished.
11. The Ministry shall:
(1) make rules and regulations, consistent with this Act, prescribing all matters that are required or permitted by this Act to be prescribed, or are necessary to be prescribed for carrying out or giving effect to this Act;
(2) ensure that every regulations and amendments  made thereof under this Act is made public after it is approved  by the Cabinet;
(3) oversee and promote implementation of this Act;
(4) prepare guidelines on the rights established by this Act and how to exercise them for the general public;
(5) have  the power to set, and from time-to-time amend minimum standards for record management, which a public authority shall be required to comply; and
(6) report annually to the Cabinet on its performance, including audited accounts, which may be combined with the annual report it is required to produce under section 58
Organizational and Operational Statement
12. To facilitate public access to official information, a public authority shall make available to the public a detailed organizational and operational statement that describes:
(1) its structural organization and functions;
(2) the procedures followed in its decision making;
(3) the powers, duties, and responsibilities of its officials and employees;
(4) the norms for the discharge of its functions;
(5) the laws, rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records used in discharging its functions; and
(6) the categories of official information held by it or under its control, including details as to formats in which official information is maintained;
(7) any arrangement that exists for consultation with or representation by, members of the public in relation to the discharge of its functions and obligations;
(8) the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted for the purpose of advice to the public authority, together with a statement for each such body, as to whether meetings are open to the public and whether minutes of meetings are accessible to the public;
(9) a directory of its officials and employees, including specific contact information of its IMOs;
(10) the budget of each of its component entities, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures, and reports on disbursements made and actual expenditure incurred;
(11) the manner of execution of its subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and disbursed/expended and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
(12) particulars of recipients of concessions, permits and authorizations granted by it;
(13) facilities and resources for obtaining official information with respect to the public authority, including the working hours of any library or reading room maintained for public use;
(14) matters relating to important policies of the public authority that affect the public; and
(15) such other information which are not classified or exempted from being disclosed under this Act.
Cost-effectiveness
13. In carrying out its obligations under this Act, a public authority shall provide for the greatest possible public access to official information, taking into consideration the need to provide essential Government services at the lowest reasonable cost.
Updating of Organizational and Operational Statement
14. A public authority shall update its organizational and operational statement, as described in section 12 of this Act, at least annually, but more frequently, if greater frequency is determined to be necessary by the head of the public authority.
15. A public authority shall have five years to meet the full proactive publication requirements of section 12.
16. The Ministry shall stipulate minimum requirements for public authorities on an annual basis in the interim, until they have reached the full extent of the section 12 obligations.
Special Effective Dates
17. The first organizational and operational statement, under section 12 of this Act, shall be made available no later than four months after the date on which this Act comes into force under section 1(2) of this Act.
CHAPTER 3 – REQUEST FOR OFFICIAL INFORMATION
Procedure for Official Information
18. A request for official information shall be submitted in writing to the IMO of the   appropriate public authority.
19. Public authorities may stipulate forms for the submission of requests, provided that any request which contains the requisite information, in accordance with this section and section 20, shall be treated as a request under this Act, regardless of whether or not it is made on that form.
20. Requests may be submitted in person, by post, by facsimile or electronically (by email) and shall describe official information requested with sufficient clarity to permit its identification.
21. A person making a request for information shall, within two working days, be provided with an acknowledgement of receipt of their requests, normally via the same mode of communication in which they submitted the request.
22. Where such request cannot be made in writing, the IMO shall render all reasonable assistance to the person making the request orally, to facilitate the same in writing. The IMO shall also provide reasonable assistance to individuals who are having difficulty completing their requests, including because they cannot describe the information sought in sufficient detail.
No Reason or Personal Information required for Request
23. A person who makes a request under section 18 of this Act shall not be required to state a reason for the request or to provide personal details, other than contact data where person seek information concerning themselves such that giving it to another person might violate their privacy, as specified in section 45(10).
24. The IMO may demand identity of the person making the request to ensure that they are entitled to access such information unless the request concerns information deemed to be of a private or personal nature, in which case the individual making the request must provide documentation to demonstrate identity.
Special Assistance
25. Where access to the record or a part thereof is required to be provided under this Act and the person to whom access is to be provided is differently abled, the Public Authority shall provide assistance to enable access to the information.
Transfer of Request
26. In the event of a public authority not holding or not in possession of the requested official information, shall transfer the request as appropriate to the relevant public authority and, shall notify the person making the request in writing. A transfer under this section shall be made as soon as practicable, but not later than five working days after the date of receipt of the request.
Time Period for Furnishing of Official Information
27. Except as provided by section 31 or 32 of this Act, the public authority shall furnish the official information as requested and soon as possible and in any case:
(1) not later than 14 working  days after the date of receipt of a request for official information;
(2) within two days where a request for information relates to information that   reasonably appears to be necessary to safeguard the life or liberty of a person.
Form of Official Information to be furnished
28. The public authority shall furnish official information in response to a request under this Act in any form, including:
(1) printed copy of a record or document;
(2) a certified sample of material or other certifiable medium containing information transcript of a hearing or other proceeding;
(3) computer disk or other electronic medium;
(4) reasonable opportunity to inspect official information and inspect a site or works to take notes during such inspection;
(5) reasonable opportunity to hear or view official information, in the case of a sound recording or visual image; and
(6) decoded official information in written form or other appropriate form, in the case of short hand or other code.
29. A person making the request shall be free to reuse information obtained pursuant to a request, subject to respect for the intellectual property rights of third parties.
Limited Conditions for Denial
30. Notwithstanding section 5 of this Act, a public authority may deny or limit a request for official information under this Act, if:
(1) compliance with the request would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of the public authority from its other operations; or
(2) compliance with the request would substantially and unreasonably interfere with the performance of the lawful functions of an official of the Government; and
(3) the head of public authority has personally attested to this fact.
Partial Denial
31. In the event that a request is received for information, part of which is exempted from this Act as set forth in section 45, the public authority shall, if possible, remove such information while granting the remainder of the request, and notify the applicant:
(1) that only part of the record requested, after removing those portions containing information which is exempt from disclosure, is being provided;
(2)  of the reasons for the decision, including any material on which those reasons were based;
(3)  of the name and designation of the official responsible for the decision;
(4) of the right to appeal the denial under section 55 of this Act, including information on the appeals process, fees, and any applicable time limits; and
(5) that removal of the exempted parts is not possible, and thus the entire request has been denied.
Permissible reasons for Denial
32. A request for official information under this Act may be denied only under certain conditions of denial set forth under Sections 30, 31 and 42 to 45 of this Act.
Extension of Time
33. The public authority may extend the time period under section 27(1) of this Act, to a   total of not more than 30 working  days from the date of receipt of the request if:
(1) the request is for a large volume of records or necessitates a search through a large volume of records and complying with the request within the time allotted would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the public authority;
(2) consultations are necessary to process the request and the consultations cannot reasonably be completed within the time allotted; or
(3) there would be no extension of time period for information that pertains to the life and liberty of a person, as specified in section 27(2).
34. In the event of the need for an extension, the public authority shall notify the applicant:
(1) of the reasons for the decision, including any material on which those reasons were based; and
(2) of the name and designation of the official responsible for the decision.
Extraordinary Additional Extension
35. After the public authority extends the time period under section 33 of this Act, the head of the public authority involved may further extend the time period for any of the reasons specified in subsection (1) or (2) of that section.
36. An extension under section 35 shall:
(1) be by written notice to the person making the request;
(2) be granted only in extraordinary circumstances, as verified and recorded by the head of the public authority; and
(3) not extend the total time period beyond 90 working days after the date of receipt of the request.
Notice of Denial of Request
37. If a request for official information is denied, in part or in whole under Section 32, the Public Authority shall, not later than 14 working days in the case of a denial under section 27(1) or 30 working  days under section 33 or 90 working days under section 31, notify the applicant in writing:
(1) of the reasons for the decision, including any material on which those reasons were based;
(2) of the name and designation of the official responsible for the decision.
(3) of the right to appeal the denial under section 8 of this Act, including information on the appeals process, fees, and any applicable time limits.
CHAPTER 4 – FEES
38. In exchange for provision of official information in response to requests made under this Act, the Ministry shall establish a fee structure based on cost of providing the information which may include the actual cost of making copies, collecting samples and other direct cost but excluding the cost of salaries and other overhead expenses which are part of the normal institution cost.
39. The notice for the fees shall consist of the following:
(1) information on how to pay the fees; the period intervening between the dispatch of this notification and payment of fees shall be excluded for the purpose of calculating the period of 30 working days referred to in this Act;
(2) information concerning his right to review the decision, including the amount of fees charged or the form of access provided, as well as the
(3) particulars of the appellate authority, time limit, process and any other forms; and
(4) upon written request of a person requesting official information, the public authority shall provide a written estimate of prospective fees.
CHAPTER 5 – EXEMPT OFFICIAL INFORMATION
Exemption from Disclosure of Information
40. Notwithstanding any of the exceptions contained in this Chapter, a request for information shall be granted if the overall public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to a protected interest from that disclosure.
41. The exceptions in this Chapter apply only if the harm envisaged is likely to occur during or after the request is made.
42. The exceptions provided for in sections 43 (1), (3), (4), (8) and (10) shall cease to apply after 20 years has passed since the record was created, provided that, in highly exceptional cases, where a real risk of harm to the protected interest remains, the head of the public authority may continue the exception.
43. A public authority may refuse to disclose the requested information if:
(1) the disclosure would harm the sovereignty, integrity or security of Bhutan, or the relations of the country with a foreign government.
(2) it concerns the private, non-official affairs of the royal family;
(3) disclosure of the information would undermine the free and frank provision of advice within government
(4) the information has been received in confidence from a foreign government or any organization on the understanding that it would be treated as confidential and disclosure of which would constitute a breach of confidence;
(5) the information includes commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks, or copyrights, and the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the relevant authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;
(6) the Information is expressly forbidden to be published by any Court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of Court;
(7) the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person;
(8) the disclosure would lead to revelation of the identity of a source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes;
(9) the disclosure of such information would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
(10) such information relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Public authority  or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information;
Third Party Information
44. Where a Public authority intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof on a request made under this Act, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by that third party, the Public authority shall within five working days from the receipt of the request, give a written notice to such third party.
45. A notice given under Section 44 shall include:
(1) a statement that the concerned public authority giving the notice intends to disclose the information or release a record or a part thereof that might contain material or information concerning the third party;
(2) a description of the information needed or the contents of the record or part thereof that, as the case may be, belong to, were supplied by or relate to the third party to whom the notice is given; and
(3) a statement that the third party may, within five working days after the notice is given, make representations to the concerned Information and Media Officer as to why the record or part thereof should not be disclosed.
46. Where a third party has failed to register a representation in writing or orally against the proposed disclosure within the time limit, the third party shall be deemed to have waived the right to object.
CHAPTER 6 – DISPUTE RESOLUTION AND APPEALS
47. Complaints relating to requests for official information under this Act, may within 30 working days of the subject matter of the complaint arising, file an appeal to the Ministry.
48. Subject to the provisions of this Act, it shall be the duty of the Ministry to receive and inquire into a complaint or an appeal from any person:
(1) who has been unable to submit a request, either by reason that no Information and Media Officer has been appointed under this Act, or because the Officer, has refused to accept his or her application for information;
(2) who has been refused access to any information requested under this Act;
(3) who has been required to pay an amount of fee which he considers unreasonable;
(4) who has not been given a response to a request for information or access to information within the time limit specified under this Act;
(5) who believes that he or she has been given incomplete, misleading or false information under this Act; and
(6) in respect of any other matter relating to requesting or obtaining access to information under this Act.
49. Where an appeal is preferred against an order made by Information and Media Officer to disclose third party information, the appeal by the concerned third party shall be made within 30 working days from the date of the order.
50. Where the Ministry is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to inquire into the matter, it may initiate an inquiry in respect thereof.
51. Notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other Act of Parliament, the Ministry may, during the inquiry of any complaint under this Act, examine any record to which this Act applies which is under the control of the public authority, and no such record may be withheld from it on any grounds.
52. The aggrieved party shall lodge a complaint before the Ministry which shall be processed within 30 working days, provided that the Ministry may, in exceptional cases and as necessary, extend this period of time.
53. If the aggrieved party is not satisfied with the decision of the Ministry then he may within 10 working days of receipt of such a decision, file an appeal to the court of competent jurisdiction.
54. In its decision, the Ministry has the power to:
(1) require the public authority to compensate the complainant of any loss or other detriment suffered;
(2) reject the application;
(3) require the public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this Act. Provide access to information, if so requested, in a particular form;
(4) ensure appointment of  Information and Media Officer;
(5) have published certain information or categories of information; and
(6) make necessary changes to the practices of a public authority in relation to the maintenance, management and destruction of records.
55. If the decision of the Information and Media Officers against which an appeal is preferred relates to information of a third party, the Court shall give a reasonable opportunity of being heard to that third party
Court’s Access to Exempt Official Information
56. Notwithstanding that official information at issue in an appeal under this chapter may be exempt official information under chapter 5 of this Act, the Court may order production of any or all of the official information involved.
Damages and Costs for unreasonable Denial of Request
57. If a public authority or the Information and Media Officers refuse without any reasonable ground to give or provide the information to the person making the request, or otherwise willfully obstructs access to information, he shall be guilty of the offence of withholding information unlawfully.
58. The offence of withholding information unlawfully shall be determined by the court with a minimum penalty of petty misdemeanor.
59. In addition to any other penalty permitted by law, if the Court holds that denial or obstruction of a request for official information was without reasonable grounds, the Court may hold the public authority liable for damages and costs.
60. In the event of non-compliance with the order of the Court, the public authority or the responsible official shall be liable for contempt of Court.
CHAPTER 7 – MISCELLANEOUS
61. A public authority shall produce and make public a list of all of the records it holds, provided that where mere acknowledgement of the existence of a record would engage an exception as provided for in section 43 of this Act, this record may be redacted from the list of records that is made public.
62. A public authority shall ensure that their staff and IMOs in particular, receive appropriate training to be able to implement this Act effectively.
63. No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything which is done in good faith or intended to be done under this Act or any rule made there under.
64. Every public authority shall collect and provide annual report to the Ministry, which shall also be made public.
65. The report under section 64 shall state in respect of the year to which the report relates;
(1) The number of requests made to each public authority;
(2) The number of decisions where applicants were not entitled to full or partial  access to the documents pursuant to the requests, the provisions of this Act under which these decisions were made and the number of times such provisions were invoked;
(3) The number of appeals referred to the Ministry,  local court,  and the high court for review, the nature of the appeals and the outcome of the appeals;
(4) The amount of fees collected by each public authority under this Act; and
(5) Recommendations for reform, including recommendations in respect of the particular public authorities, for the development, improvement, modernization, reform or amendment to this Act or other legislation or common law or any other matter relevant for operationalising the right to information.
66. The Ministry shall publish an annual consolidated report on the compliance of the public authority with its obligations under this Act.
67. The report shall be submitted not later than 30th June of each year and shall be made publicly available.
CHAPTER 8 – AMENDMENT AND AUTHORITATIVE TEXT
Amendment
68. The amendment of this Act by way of addition, variation or repeal may be made only by the act of the Parliament, subject to the requirement that amendments shall not undermine the effectiveness of the Right to Information.
Authoritative Text
69. In case of any difference in meaning and interpretation between the Dzongkha and the English texts, the former shall prevail
Definitions
70. In this Act:
(1) “Exempt official information” means official information specified under chapter 5 of this Act,
(2) “Information” means information in documentary, other recorded form or in any other form of technology, whether stored, maintained or utilized as writing, drawing, electronic media, photographic image, film image, video image, sound transcription, physical object, or otherwise, including administrative decision records, documents, memoranda, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, and models;
(3) “Ministry” means Ministry of Information and Communications responsible for administering this Act.
(4) “Official information” means information in the possession, custody or control of a public authority, including information that a public authority is authorised under any other law or regulation, to access from a private body or any other body that is funded by the government;
(5) “Public authority” means a ministry, a government department, an executive agency, the legislative and judicial branches, a nationalized industry, a public corporation or other entity established by law, including a corporate body or agency owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government and a non-government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by the Government, and private bodies that conduct public functions, to the extent of those functions; and
(6) “substantially financed” includes all such inputs, monetary or otherwise, about whom there is a requirement to maintain and or submit a statement of accounts or a certificate of utilization, and or where there is restriction imposed by the financing public authority on its use and or disposal.
(7) “Right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to:
(1) inspect works, documents, records;
(2) take notes or extract  certified  copies of documents or records;
(3) take certified samples of material;
(4) obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, flash drive, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic modes.
(8) “third party” means a person or organization other than the person making a request for information and includes a public authority.

 

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Comments

  1. Honorable Prime Minister,

    Can we suggest to have a , “whistle blowers act”, where genuine whistle blowers who acted in the interest of the Nation can be protected.

    Thank you.

  2. Your excellency,
    Most welcome move during early stage of government in power. I wish and hope that you would be successful in passing this very important Act in the forthcoming NA session. I have nothing much to say as i am not a legal person, but wish to know the wider definition of Public authority. Does the definition also include political parties, which i think should be because political parties in Bhutan is funded by the Government during election. If this is the case, then are political parties willing to disclose information concerning their internal party matters such as selection of Ministers, appointment of individuals in various constitutional posts, or the assistance or fund they receive in addition to government allotted amount?? I look forward to hearing from you.

    Cheers and keep up the good work

  3. Tenzing Lamsang says

    Your Excellency,
    I have attached in your email a list of comments made by TAG or Transparency Advisory Group a SAARC level RTI think tank on the earlier draft RTI Bill sent to them by the MoIC. The MoIC after some public and media pressure during the previous government had invited TAG to advocate on RTI in Bhutan. I am a member of TAG and would to forward you the comments which would go a long way in strengthening the ultimate RTI bill. The following are also links to articles i had done based on the TAG feedback to the RTI Bill. The feedback itself is attached la. TAG members consist of Information Commissioners, MPs, Editors, senior Bureaucrats all involved with RTI from the South Asian region.

    http://www.thebhutanese.bt/strengthening-the-right-to-information-bill-part-1/

    http://www.thebhutanese.bt/strengthening-the-right-to-information-bill-part-2/

    Tenzing Lamsang

    Editor-in-Chief

    The Bhutanese

  4. There needs to be provisions in the Act strong and effective enough to deal with the agencies for not providing the information sought as required by the Act. Just providing in the Act that MoIC shall be the agency to handle the complaints/disputes would not be enough. Unless establishment of a permanent office within the MoIC to handle the issues of the Act is provided, the Act would be another like Tenancy Act.

  5. In its draft form, the RTI Bill looks a little restrictive. Why not indicate clearly what information (say Annual Reports, river flow datas, energy exports, energy generation (MW, MWh, etc), industrial imports/exports, agricultural imports/exports, etc…etc.) could be obtained without having to write an application/ fill a form to the agencies/institutions. This will reduce substantial management costs and as well lead to faster information sharing. I mean what information could be obtained on demand, if those could be clearly spelt out in the Bill/Act.

    Placing Draft RTI Bill for public viewing and feedback is a very good example of transparency shown by the Hon’ble Prime Minister.

  6. Your Excellency,

    First of all, kindly accept my congratulations on your parties success in the 2013 elections and on your elevation to the PMs post.

    At this moment in time, I am really not too sure as to whether Bhutan really needs to have an RTI Act or not, on the contrary, maybe it is too early for a country who’s democracy is only 6 years old to have an RTI ACT. Like Yeshey Dorji states in his blog, prior to passing the RTI ACT, we need to have some institutions in place to make the ACT effective, in the absence of them, RTI would not serve the purpose for which it is intended.

    I would also like to add, that, even without such an ACT in place, some newspapers, particularly “the Bhutanese” were privy to so much confidential information, if this is the case, why is RTI really necessary.

    However, in the event the government is hell bent on passing the RTI, which I suspect is the case, please look into having a whistle blowers act as suggested by “truth” above, without which, RTI will hardly be useful.

    Also, If you want to take a cue from India, our big brother to the south, while they have an RTI ACT in place, all political parties don’t want to be governed by such an ACT, which sounds absolutely absurd.

    So my suggestion is to please study both the pros and cons of such an ACT and don’t pass such a bill hastily, remember, the worlds largest democracy. India took the better part of half a century to pass their RTI ACT. And by the look of things, RTI hardly seems to be working there.

  7. Your Excellency,
    There are copious info on the net but it may be good if our honorable members of the legislative body can take the time to read this.

    http://www.ico.org.uk/for_organisations/freedom_of_information/guide/refusing_a_request#when-can-we-refuse-a-request-for-information-10

  8. Your Excellency,

    First of all thanks a lot for having given this opportunity to express our views on RTI bill.

    Following are my views la;
    a. Chapter 3 : section 18. A request for official information shall be submitted in writing to the IMO of the appropriate public authority.
    For the above mentioned clause, how can one request for the official information if there is no IMO in organization/ministry/Department/Division.

    b.Section 36.Extraordinary Additional Extension (2) be granted only in extraordinary circumstances, as verified and recorded by the head of the public authority;
    For the above mentioned clause 36 (2), I can’t understand what type of circumstances shall be call as extraordinary circumstances, so it may be very much helpful to me if one can specify few examples of the extraordinary circumstances.

    I might have submitted the wrong views, therefore, my mistakes are highly regretted.

    Thanking you,

    Yours sincerely,

    Tshering

  9. Comments on the Draft RTI Bill

    1.Disclosure of Information
    The RTI exemption Section may need to be reviewed in line with the following Constitutional and Civil Service law provisions:

    Constitution Article 7, Section 22
    Notwithstanding the rights conferred by this Constitution, nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from subjecting reasonable restriction by law, when it concerns:

    (e) The disclosure of information received in regard to the affairs of the State or in discharge of official duties

    (f) The rights and freedom of others

    Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010
    Section 22 The Chairperson and members of the Commission shall:
    (f) maintain confidentiality in cases where, decisions, documents and deliberations should not be disclosed in the public interest.

    Section 44 A civil servant shall serve the Royal Government without fear, favour or prejudice to:
    (h) maintain confidentiality of all facts and information discovered in the course of duty, both while in service and after separation from service;

    (j) refrain from publicly expressing adverse opinions against the Royal Government;

    Section 37 Civil Service values
    g. Openness: A civil servant shall be as open as required about all the decisions and actions that he takes. He/she shall give reasons for his/her decisions and restrict information to protect the wider public interest and confidentiality of the matter.

    2. Access to RCSC’s Annual Reports
    RTI Bill Section 61 A public authority shall produce and make public a list of all of the records it holds, provided that where mere acknowledgement of the existence of a record would engage an exception as provided for in section 43 of this Act, this record may be redacted from the list of records that is made public.
    RTI Bill Section 64 Every public authority shall collect and provide annual report to the Ministry, which shall also be made public.

    Article 26, Section 9 of the Constitution
    The Commission shall submit an Annual Report on its policies and performances to the Druk Gyalpo and to the Prime Minister.

    According to the Constitution, the RCSC’s Annual Report, unlike the ACC and RAA reports, is not even required to be submitted to the Parliament and therefore, the RCSC’s reports are not in the public domain. On this particular provision in the RTI Bill, unless the provision in the Constitution is changed, access to the RCSC’s Annual Report would be denied.

    3. Defamation/false allegation
    The Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010, Section 92 says:

    The Commission shall protect a civil servant from false allegation or defamation leveled by any person or party while discharging his/her duties and responsibilities in accordance with rules and regulations.

    The above provision empowers the Commission to take legal actions against a media personnel or house for false allegation or defamation of a civil servant.

    4. Others
    For information, even in the United States, there are the nine exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act, which include
    1. “Related solely to internal personnel rules and practices”
    2. “Personal Information Affecting an Individual’s Privacy”

    RCSC

  10. Comments on the Draft RTI Bill

    1.Disclosure of Information
    The RTI exemption Section may need to be reviewed in line with the following Constitutional and Civil Service law provisions:
    Constitution Article 7, Section 22
    Notwithstanding the rights conferred by this Constitution, nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from subjecting reasonable restriction by law, when it concerns:

    (e) The disclosure of information received in regard to the affairs of the State or in discharge of official duties

    (f) The rights and freedom of others

    Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010
    Section 22 The Chairperson and members of the Commission shall:
    (f) maintain confidentiality in cases where, decisions, documents and deliberations should not be disclosed in the public interest.

    Section 44 A civil servant shall serve the Royal Government without fear, favour or prejudice to:
    (h) maintain confidentiality of all facts and information discovered in the course of duty, both while in service and after separation from service;

    (j) refrain from publicly expressing adverse opinions against the Royal Government;

    Section 37 Civil Service values
    g. Openness: A civil servant shall be as open as required about all the decisions and actions that he takes. He/she shall give reasons for his/her decisions and restrict information to protect the wider public interest and confidentiality of the matter.

    2. Access to RCSC’s Annual Reports
    RTI Bill Section 61 A public authority shall produce and make public a list of all of the records it holds, provided that where mere acknowledgement of the existence of a record would engage an exception as provided for in section 43 of this Act, this record may be redacted from the list of records that is made public.
    RTI Bill Section 64 Every public authority shall collect and provide annual report to the Ministry, which shall also be made public.

    Article 26, Section 9 of the Constitution
    The Commission shall submit an Annual Report on its policies and performances to the Druk Gyalpo and to the Prime Minister.

    According to the Constitution, the RCSC’s Annual Report, unlike the ACC and RAA reports, is not even required to be submitted to the Parliament and therefore, the RCSC’s reports are not in the public domain. On this particular provision in the RTI Bill, unless the provision in the Constitution is changed, access to the RCSC’s Annual Report would be denied.

    3. Defamation/false allegation
    The Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010, Section 92 says:

    The Commission shall protect a civil servant from false allegation or defamation leveled by any person or party while discharging his/her duties and responsibilities in accordance with rules and regulations.

    The above provision empowers the Commission to take legal actions against a media personnel or house for false allegation or defamation of a civil servant.

    4. Others
    For information, even in the United States, there are the nine exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act, which include
    1. “Related solely to internal personnel rules and practices”
    2. “Personal Information Affecting an Individual’s Privacy”

    RCSC

  11. Your Excellency,

    Thank you for this initiative to get public feedback. We enclose comments below followed by comments offered by the UNESCO Delhi office. We took the liberty of sharing it with Guy Berger at the UNESCO office- the Director of freedom of expression and media development, who was in Bhutan as resource person for the 2012 Bhutan Media Dialogue who shared it with their Delhi office.

    Sincerely,
    Pek Dorji
    Director, BCMD

    BCMD comments:
    1. Suggest changing the title from RTI to Access to Information – perhaps more indicative of the overall rights and duties of office bearers and citizens.

    2. In the light of all the practical challenges of getting our bureacracy and public offices ready for the RTI, a consideration could be to take a two step approach by first preparing the public service and corporate sector itself with an information friendly environment where transparency and accountability is assured.

    3. Include proactive disclosure in all organsations particularly in terms of use and disbursement of public funds ( if not already done) and this should cut across all sectors, corporate and public, civil society.

    4. How does this act correspond to existing provisions to promote good governance through transparency and accountability requirements for example? Local Govt Act etc.

    5. The time given for responses need to be reviewed to allow for the limitations of small offices especially in the districts where we often face the reality of information lying with one specific officer. The response time may not be met if that person is on leave. This is a very practical challenge.

    5. Our challenge of introducing this in a culture of poor record keeping and in a pervasive culture of hierarchical information flow needs to be concurrently or even immediately addressed. Access to justice and other cultural conditions need to be taken into consideration so as to enable a more equitable use of the law so that both rural and urban populations are served. ( We see in many countries that access to information is often used by the urban elites to access critical market information while the rural populations are left behind).

    In short, this is a great initiative and step forward but perhaps it needs a little more time for greater public debate and for us to address some of the key constraints to information sharing so we are well prepared to roll it out when the law is enacted.

    Comments from UNESCO: UNESCO New Delhi Observations on the Draft RTI Law for Bhutan 2013

    Chapter 1 : Which information is under the duty to be published is not specified. The right to access information held by public bodies is the fundamental reason for adopting a right to information law. The text should provide clearly that any citizen of Bhutan may make a request for information and, subject to certain conditions – procedural and substantive-have the information communicated. Some laws- for example- provide for a right of access to documents or records while most others provide for a right to access to information. There are problems with restricting the right of access to documents, since most applicants will not have a specific document in mind when lodging their information requests. The law includes principles governing access or sets out its purposes. These can be useful to clarify the underpinning of the law, helping to clarify ambiguity or the conflicts between openness and other public interests that are bound to arise. The public bodies that are covered by the law should be defined.

    Chapter 2 : Rules for Processing requests. Does the right to information provide for an appeal to the court?

    Chapter 3 : Request for Official Information All laws provide for requests to be made in writing, including electronically, setting out the name and contact details of the applicant. In most countries, no reasons need to be given for a request. Most laws also provide specifically for assistance to be provided to applicants where they are having problems describing the information sought in sufficient detail. Most laws provide set time limits for responses to requests for information, ranging from 7 days to 30 days, and most also require the information to be provided as soon as possible , with the time limit set as a maximum. In many countries, a failure to respond within the time limits constitutes a deemed refusal of the request. Special time limits may apply to cases of compelling need- including a threat to life or safety or where there is an urgent need to inform the public about government activity – in which case the information must be provided in a shorter time limit (e.g. 10 days).

    Chapter 4 : There is no mention of fee waivers, such as for the poor. Regardless of the fee system used, it is important to keep fee levels low/ or include in some cases fee waivers, so that fees do not exert a chilling effect on the willingness of individuals to lodge requests for information.=.

    Chapter 5 : Exemption from Disclosure of Information
    Most laws include a comprehensive list of exceptions , or grounds for refusing to disclose information. The real difficulty is to ensure an appropriate balance between the protected interests and the need for openness. A difficult issue which should be taken into account, is the relationship of right to information law with secrecy laws. In principle it does not matter which law provides for an exception, as long as that exception is appropriate in scope, taking into account the need for openness. In practice, however, many secrecy laws do not provide for an appropriate balance. In some cases the RTI laws have general public interest overrides – the public interest override is limited to certain types of interests, such as a breach of the law or a serious risk to public safety or the environment.

    Chapter 6 : Dispute resolution and appeals
    The RTI should provide for an independent oversight body to play a role in resolving access to information complaints. This is something that has proven central to the effective functioning of the right to information regime. Appeals to the court are too time-consuming and expensive for all but a small minority of applicants, and yet it is essential that an external level of appeal be available.
    The grounds for complaint should be broad, so that all failures to apply the law may be remedied. It is also important that the body be able to investigate breaches of its own motion so that general failures about which complaints are unlikely to be lodged by individuals – such as failures to respect proactive publication rules – may also be addressed. Another suggestion is to give to oversight bodies the power to impose a range of remedial measures, such as to require public bodies to disclose the information, perhaps in a particular form, to lower the fee, or even compensate the applicant, to appoint information officers, to enhance the provision of training to their officials, to publish certain information on a proactive basis, to make changes to their record management systems and so on.
    Most Right to Information laws provide for an ultimate appeal to the courts. Even where appeals are specifically precluded by the law- as in India- the courts have assumed jurisdiction under the administrative law rules.
    Chapter 8 : Amendment and Authoritative Text
    As a rule, the oversight body (Ministry) has a general responsibility to promote implementation of the law which may include monitoring implementation, providing training, interpreting the law, developing forms and other implementation tools, giving advice to applicants and/or public bodies, and making recommendations for reform. There may be included in the RTI law provisions for periodic review of the operation of the law and a review of all laws which restrict the disclosure of information with a view to bringing them into line with the right to information law.

  12. Karma Tshering says

    Your Excellency,

    Thank you for this bill(RTI). I have full support. In Bhutan, i wonder sometimes that we dont have even right to live together with family, leave aside right to information. My story and my many friends’ stories tell us la. For example, the recent placement I got was a big blow from MOE. After my studies, they rewarded me by tearing my family and me. It was a brutal break up after a yearlong study, again to a far flung place. It was not a happy family union but a sad one. Even I had a good many reasons and had appealed to many higher authorities, it vanished it in the air. I have a few questions now: Is this the way our Ministry separates working husband and wife brutally? Do they understand our problems and read and care about our applications? Why are we not given three choices of schools or Dzongkhags? Why are our problems not being listened? Why don’t they accept or consider recommendation and requirement letters from DEOs, Principals, and others if it is a democracy and decentralization? Why do they forget our GNH? Why someone has to serve again in remote schools after having served for more than five years? What types of teachers are placed in Thimphu, Paro and in some Western Dzongkhags? How do we establish a quality education if our teachers are deprived of some basic happiness of themselves first?

    I hope your excellency will look upon this matter soon. The education policy also states that working people should be together, and I feel there is true need to keep them together. A unit of the society is the family. And if a family fails, people fail, and then the society fails. Help me la.

    Karma Tshering
    Thimphu

  13. Jamyang Pelmo says

    Your Excellency,
    Congratulation! I am happy that your honor became the Head of the Government,which we had looked forward.But please donot break poor people’s trust and faith inby you.
    Hope by coming session,RTI BILL will get through.Hope through RTI,people will get justice. “The world today needs more justice tha charity.Often Charity becomes necessary because of injustuces”
    “Where law and justice do not exist,tyranny prevails”
    In the land GHN,common people are being victimised by the law,law is made for the low level.only.Judicial system of Bhutan,GNH,country need to be investigate.This is the voice of an innocent citizen.
    Jamyang Pelmo,T

  14. Your Excellency,

    The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), working with International Media Support (IMS), have prepared a detailed analysis of the draft RTI Bill, available at: http://www.law-democracy.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Bhutan.FOI_.Oct13.pdf.

    We used the internationally recognised RTI Rating methodology, prepared by CLD and Access Info Europe (see http://www.RTI-Rating.org) to assess the Bill and found that, if passed as is, it would score 125 points out of a possible total of 150. This score would place Bhutan in 5th place globally, behind Serbia (135 points), India and Slovenia (both 130 points) and Liberia (126 points). Congratulations!

    At the same time, we found there were a number of ways in which the Bill could still be further improved, which we have set out in our analysis for your consideration.

    All the very best of luck with this important piece of legislation.

    Toby Mendel
    Halifax, Canada

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