At a symposium on promoting right to information(RTI) organised by local anti-corruption NGO, Transparency Maldives, discussions were held on the importance of establishing a strong RTI regime in the country.
A variety of sessions, including RTI and democracy, administering an RTI regime, local governance and RTI, and proactive disclosure by the state were discussed at this symposium which aimed to create awareness among policy makers, public officials, civil society and media.
“We invited high level officials from relevant state institutions to the symposium. Our hope is that we can form partnerships to further promote RTI and advocate for passing the RTI bill currently in parliament with the best practices included in it,” Transparency Maldives Advocacy Manager Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News.
The NGO further said that they had invited experts from around the world to impart information about the importance of establishing a robust RTI law.
Speakers at the event included Senior Legal Officer for Freedom of Information and Expression at the Open Society Justice Initiative Sandra Coliver, Deputy Executive Director of the Open Democracy Advice Centre Mukelani Dimba, Legal Officer for the Centre for Law and Democracy Michael Karanicolas, Programme Coordinator of Access to Information Programme at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Venkatesh Nayak, former Information Commissioner at the Indian Central Information Commission Shailesh Gandhi and Chairperson of local NGO Democracy House Mohamed Anil.
Speaker of Parliament, Abdulla Shahid, chief guest at the symposium, said in his speech that freedom of information is a concept alien to the local society. He said that it had traditionally been reserved for the privileged and powerful classes.
“Our society tended to make very deliberate demarcations between those who need to know, who should know and those who need not know,” he said, further adding, “I strongly believe access of information must be an indispensable part of any true democracy.”
Right to Information has been regulated in the Maldives from January 2009 under a presidential decree, following the failure to pass a similar bill in parliament in 2007. The current regulation covers only the ministries under the executive.
“In addition to the executive, the RTI Act should also cover the parliament, the judiciary, the independent institutions, the state companies, NGOs and utility companies,” said Rasheed in his speech.
He also added that there should not be “unnecessary obstacles” for information seekers, and that there should not be “blanket secrecy” granted to any institution.
A new RTI Bill was submitted to parliament in November 2009, which has since been pending at the Social Affairs Committee. Speaking at Monday’s symposium, Shahid said that Chair of the Social Affairs Committee had assured him that he was “very hopeful” the bill would be adopted before the end of the year.
In addition to conducting the symposium, Transparency Maldives has previously coordinated trainings on RTI for civil society and media, produced a critique of the RTI Bill at the Parliament’s Social Affairs Committee and received endorsements for their position on RTI from the Anti Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, the Auditor General and the Ministry of Human Rights and Gender.
The NGO has also stated that it further intends to conduct workshops on RTI in 13 atolls and to assist in the establishment of a system through information technology which aims to increase convenience for the public in obtaining information from the state.
Minivan News tried contacting Chair of the Social Affairs Committee PPM MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed and Co-Chair DRP MP Hassan Latheef, but neither was responding to calls at the time of press.