Little did Husne Ara Joly anticipate that the conversation she picked up with her colleagues in the office would spur such a debate. They did not like the idea she had tossed. They rather wondered what went wrong with their boss (Joly) who had steered the non-government organization (NGO) they all were working for to a formidable success thenceforth.
It didn’t immediately occur to her. But then Joly realized that it was she who alone had converted, not all she worked with. So she took it upon her to make the colleagues understand the value of her newfound concept.
It was sometime early 2012. Husne Ara Joly, Executive Director of an NGO called Program for Women Development (PWD), was actually sharing her idea with colleagues at the organization’s cozy office in northern township of Sirajganj about introducing an information disclosure policy.
As she informed them that once such a policy is in place their NGO would share its programme and organizational information with the beneficiaries, in particular, and members of the public, in general, her colleagues at PWD demanded to know the rationale. One of them asked her “Why do we need to disclose our information to others?”
In her own words, as Joly recollects, she says, “There were initial hiccups. I became aware of Right to Information (RTI) Act and also about the obligation of charting out an information disclosure policy after participating in training on the issue. But my colleagues in the organization had no idea whatsoever. They raised the question why should we share our information with wider community.”
Courtesy USAID Bangladesh’s Promoting Governance, Accountability, Transparency and Integrity- PROGATI Program, the Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) imparted training on RTI and disclosure policy to many NGO executives like Joly. It not only helped Joly and likes to convert to ‘openness’ from the orthodoxy of ‘secrecy’ but also bestowed upon them the responsibility of converting many of their peers in the non-government and civil society fraternity and barefoot development activists in the grassroots.
Today Joly’s PWD is not the only one having an information disclosure policy in effect rather there are 38 other NGOs, if not more, which have successfully pursued the policy in compliance with the RTI Act that Bangladesh enacted back in 2009.
Thirty nine NGOs on April 21 announced to have voluntarily formulated their respective information disclosure policy in line with the RTI Act to make more information available to the public.
Of these NGOs, which monitor service delivery of the government agencies at local level across the country, 30 had, by then, already given approval to their policies. The proud group of 39 NGOs made the announcement at a workshop held in the capital’s BRAC Centre Inn.
To demonstrate the potential of proactive disclosures, the NGOs, the enlightened ones have already started the groundwork. Joly says, “The government functionaries that we deal with now know that we’re (PWD) RTI-compliant. This gave us an image boost-up. Others are expressing intents to follow the suit. It’s now spreading to all – our group members, families, relatives, friends and stakeholders – that we’re following an information disclosure policy.”
“We’ve adopted the disclosure policy on March 15, 2012. We’ve spelled out the categories beyond ambiguities that which are the information we would be disclosing voluntarily, which we would on requests and which are the ones that we would mark as ‘classified’. Thanks to MRDI imparted training that we could formulate our disclosure policy,” says Joly.
Ferdousi Begum, Executive Director of Bogra-based NGO, Grameen Alo, can not agree more. Begum’s NGO is also RTI-compliant and successfully introduced a disclosure policy. “We drafted our policy during the MRDI-imparted training and later we finalized it after necessary scrutiny.”
Asked to describe a few salient features of the policy that her NGO is pursuing, Begum says, “Under the disclosure policy we’ve set up an information help desk and posted a designated official within our NGO to cater to the information needs of the people. We now encourage people to follow RTI in gaining information from us and we also will follow the RTI in seeking information from government offices.”
She sees a positive change in her surroundings after the new wave of disclosure policy made a difference. “Now as far as I know another Bogra-based NGO, Lighthouse, is drafting a disclosure policy and hints at seeking our assistance if need be. Besides, Bogra-based NGO, Obolombon Nari Sangho, and Barisal-based NGO, AHEAD, showed interests in adopting disclosure policies as we first declared ours one at a district-level meeting of NGOs.”
Naresh Madhu heads Pabna-based NGO Satsanga Pallikallyan Samity. He also partook MRDI provided training. He values the training to such an extent that his NGO now contemplates to organize training for other NGOs so that those can also become aware of RTI and disclosure policy.
Own Village Advancement (OVA) is an NGO operating from the northern tip of Bangladesh – otherwise under developed Lalmonirhat. Its Executive Director Suzit Kumar Gosh has got quite a lot exposure to right to information.
He had the privilege of taking part in some seminars, workshops related to people’s right to know and right to information even before the government enacted the RTI Act in 2009. He also took part in a right to information fair last year.
But it was not until, says Gosh, he was enrolled into the MRDI training that the inspiration came for formulating a disclosure policy for OVA. He now boasts having a disclosure policy and also deputing an official of his NGO particularly to cater to the information requirements of the people.
However it is not something unique applicable to OVA only rather Pallabi Hore of Satsanga Pallikallyan Samity, Aminun Nahar of Paraspor, SM Selim Ahmed of Grameen Alo, Shahnaj Parvin of PWD – all the designated information officials in their respective NGOs – have no formal training whatsoever on the task they are asked to perform. This is commonplace.
The top executives of all these NGOs acknowledge the importance of the training for their designated information officials. But say in unison, in good spirit, that things are not bogged down from being advancing just because they could not arrange such training so far.