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Recast of draft Right to Info Ordn demanded PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 24 March 2008

Politicians, media experts, lawyers and civil society members Saturday demanded complete recast of the draft of the proposed Right to Information Ordinance to remove its contradictions, reports UNB.

They described the draft as full of contradictions and paradoxes, and said if it comes out as a law it will never be able to ensure people'' s rights to information.

"The draft I found is vague and full of unspecified terms like ''interests of the state'' and ''public interest''. I request the authorities concerned either to define or omit such terms," Trustee Board Chairman of Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB) Prof Dr Muzaffer Ahmed said.

He was addressing a roundtable titled "The Proposed Right to Information Act and the Citizens'' Thinking" arranged by Sushashaner Jannya Nagorik (SOJAN) at the National Press Club in the afternoon.

Awami League Presidium member Suranjit Sen Gupta, Barrister Harun-or-Rashid, Barrister Amirul Islam, Bhorer Kagoj editor Shyamol Datta, media expert M Jahangir, among others, addressed the roundtable.

SOJAN chairman Dr Badiul Alam Majumder presented the keynote paper at the roundtable moderated by journalist Syed Abul Maksud.

The TIB chairman, however, welcomed the government''s initiative taken for the first time recognising access to information as people''s right.

Prof Muzaffer further said another weak point of the draft is that it did not specify the structure of the proposed information commission.

Suranjit Sen Gupta said the present draft must be cancelled and rewritten to make it acceptable to all stakeholders.
He said the draft mentions that it would ensure people''s right to information through e-governance. "In a country where 40 percent people are illiterate how can you say e-governance will ensure people'' s right to information?"

About the text of the draft, the AL leader said, "No draft is written in such words. It seems that the persons who have prepared it don''t know how to write a draft of ordinance."

Gupta was critical of the government saying that political parties were not at all consulted about the draft.

Barrister Harun-or-Rashid said in every line of the draft there are contradictions and flaws. "I must say this is a poor drafting."
Bhorer Kagoj editor Shyamol Datta said if the existing draft is turned into a law, the freedom the journalists are now enjoying will be at stake.

"There is a provision if anyone seeks information, then it''ll take 20 days to provide the desired information. Is journalism possible under such a provision?" Shyamol wanted to know.

He demanded inclusion of a provision in the draft that would allow people to know about the pros and cons of defense purchase.

Dr Badiul Alam, in his keynote paper, said the draft act says the country''s foreign policy and foreign agreements would be kept secret. "In India, the information which are compulsory to be disclosed in parliament, have to be made public too. Information on public wealth used by the foreign companies should be made public."

He said in the 8 (A) clause of the act, there is a provision titled "Dignity of State". "Then what is the definition of the dignity of state? If any information present a negative picture of a institution or persons then the state cannot be harmed any more."

Besides, Badiul Alam also demanded reforms of various laws, including the Official Secrets Act, Rules of Business, Law of Evidence, Government Servants Conduct Rules and The Printing Process and Publication Act etc.

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