The Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2009 is unique in the sense that while most laws are meant to be applied on the public by the government, this law provides for the public to apply it on government agencies and other institutions using public money. But this law bears more significance for MRDI because this was perhaps one of the few instances when this organisation acted like an activist rather than just a development organisation.

Indeed, MRDI had been on the frontline advocating for the Right to Information Act in 2009. It took several organisations many months of vigorous campaigning in Dhaka and across the country to shore up support and convince the government that this law was needed. Together with other civil society organisations, MRDI waged a popular campaign that discussed the usefulness of such a law and how it could contribute to democracy and transparency in Bangladesh. The passage of this law meant great victory for a people who had inherited a rather adversarial legal system as behove the colonial British.

After all, the colonial system, for the sake of its own survival, would naturally keep people in the dark, deprive them of their rights and make sure that the information never flowed to them and people remained ignorant to make their rule easier. That system, quite predictably, produced a bureaucracy that continued and furthered the same practices. In fact, that was one of the reasons that this law would take so much lobbying, advocacy and campaigning to be enacted in parliament. The date was 29 March 2009. It could be compared to a seismic shift in Bangladeshi context, especially coming in the heels of a two-year military-controlled government.

MRDI continued to be a campaigner and remains a strong advocate of the law long after it has been enacted. The development organisation, although dedicated to mainly media development, continues its initiatives to popularise the RTI Act and demonstrate how useful it could be towards ensuring accountability and transparency. There have been several initiatives to train citizens from across the social and political spectrum on how to use the law and file applications.

MRDI’s RTI Camp at Shinghajhuli, Jashore in August 2015 involved people from the grassroots and taught them how to obtain information following the outline steps. A common villager, Asharaf Hossain, among the group became convinced that it would work. This Asharaf Hossain returned to his village and started filing RTI applications that have led better and more efficient services in the community. He has become a poster boy for the movement and continues to conduct RTI camps himself encouraging people about how effective information could be and how useful the law is. The Shingaljhuli camp eventually led streamlining the local budget, social security programmes and the expansive safety net programmes like the vulnerable group development (VGD) and vulnerable group feeding (VGF) programme.

But all these exercises were only to create a demand for information. MRDI has been working with different levels of the government and NGOs to make sure that there is adequate sensitivity and accommodation among the officials who would be at the supply side. These officials, having been used to being the sole possessor of information had to be sensitised about the merits of sharing that information with the public and further understanding that it was the people’s right to ask for that information too.

In this regard, the Information Commission and the Cabinet Division have been two focal agencies that MRDI is working with, in order to make sure that the government officials understand and appreciate the significance of transparency and accountability this law can ensure and go on to convince their colleagues. MRDI already enjoys crucial support from these key institutions in conducting RTI campaigns.

Access to information promotes transparency, openness and accountability in public administration. Furthermore, it facilitates active participation of people in democratic governance. It builds bridges between the administration and people to ensure transparency.

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