‘Access to information enables open local government’
Implementation of constitutionally and legally guaranteed right to information (RTI) with a focus on its proactive disclosure offers ample opportunities for local governments to build the image of open government, stakeholders said.
An informed citizenry can only provide civic oversight on the decisions and functions of the government and public authorities, paving the way for transparent and accountable local government, the speakers noted.
At a national-level consultative seminar on ‘RTI for good governance in local governments’ organized by Freedom Forum in the capital on Tuesday, constitutional expert Kashiraj Dahal said corruption and irregularities do not get space where the RTI and people’s participation are effective. “Local governments have a chance to transform them to open government by effectively enforcing the right to information. It is critically important when some local governments are now charged with graft cases”, he said.
Presenting a working paper on ‘Importance of RTI for transparent, accountable and responsive local government’, he called for the local governments to make their oversight bodies including legislative committee, public accounts committee and good governance committee functional for effective oversight. “Through effective oversight these committees can be instrumental in checking irregularities and corruption propping up in local governments “, he said.
The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA)’s recent 61-point recommendations has empirically claimed that the local governments are increasingly misusing their power. Dahal, also the coordinator of the seven-member RTI Bill drafting taskforce, encouraged RTI activists and advocates to use RTI for governance reforms by demanding information in the critical areas of governance such as planning, budget formulation, procurement and arrears.
Commenting on the paper, governance expert Dr Mukti Rijal also underscored the need to make opposition and oversight mechanism strong and effective at the local level in line with the principle of check and balance and separation of power. “Nepal’s local government is constitutionally formed as a very strong structure with concurrent powers along with federal and state governments, right of the locally elected chiefs and deputy chiefs of the local governments to vote to elect National Assembly members.”
He insisted the need of massive citizen education for wider civic engagement to enable them to see and oversee local governance affairs and protect the strengths of local government structure of Nepal.
Dhangadhi sub-metropolis Mayor Nripa Wod, while rendering comment on the paper, said the efforts for delivering good governance are not being supported by administrative staffs in many instances. Wod underlined the need to sensitize senior local government staffs on RTI for its effective implementation.
Likewise, presenting another working paper ‘Importance of practice of proactive disclosure at local government and its legal arrangement’, Dharmendra Jha, RTI expert, highlighted the need of compliance with the RTI laws focusing on both reactive and proactive disclosure at local level. “Every local government are legally obliged to proactively disclose minimum 20 types of administrative, financial, services and audit related information, among others in every three months”, he said, adding the local governments are ignoring to meet their RTI-stipulated obligations.
Rendering comments on the paper, Secretary of National Information Commission (NIC) Maniram Ojha highlighted the role of NIC as regulatory body to dispense justice to the information requesters when their applications are not entertained.
Amargadhi municipality deputy mayor Sangeeta Bhandari presented use of various technological tools and mechanisms in her local government in ensuring citizens’ access to information of public areas.
Freedom Forum Executive Chief Taranath Dahal said the national seminar was organized to amplify the voice for implementation of RTI for good governance at local level and help build the good image of local governments. “Improving citizen-state engagement through RTI enables open and transparent government. The event will serve this purpose and leverage local governance reforms”, he added.
Chiefs and deputy chiefs of different 12 local governments and representatives of CSOs from Sindhupalchowk, Lalitpur, Dhangadhi, Dadeldhura, Achham and Bajhang shared the best practices of governance in their areas. The local government authorities pledged to bring RTI into implementation and promote evidence-based planning and programming at local level.
As many as 75 participants including state assembly members, mayors/chairs, deputy mayors/vice-chair, government officials, information officers and representatives of CSOs, private sector, universities and media took part in the seminar.