Citizen Collective: RTI (Right to Information)

As we set out to brainstorm areas we could impact with our project in June 2020, there was a massive uproar regarding the very apparent corruption in our government. The popular movement ‘Enough is Enough’ was incited by the failure of the government to account for 10 crore rupees allocated to the Covid-19 fund as well as blatant ignorance of WHO standards for mitigation of the pandemic. Just coming out of another very public scandal after the South Asian Games, where again the amount of money spent indicated some shady accounting. These were merely some of the freshest scandals for the Nepali public and others such as the airplane, gold and Baluwatar land scandal resided in the back of people’s minds, fueling the rage.

According to data, CIAA has filed a total of 441 cases against 1212 individuals on corruption charges in the fiscal year 2019/20 alone. The charge sheet includes the former ministers, special class civil servants, officer level land junior level  government employees ranging from assistant to helpers, nominated government officials and middlemen. This administration claims to have realized over 2 billion 536 million from individuals involved in misappropriation. According to CIAA, 30.7 percent of the cases are related to the local government under the federal affairs. 

This was the general context and issues that prevailed while we brainstormed and  designed the nature of our project. The major question that we had was:

Is our governance accountable? responsible? transparent?

With this seemingly immense question in mind, we worked to find a solution to make a small yet significant dent in answering this question. We formed ‘Citizens Collective’. It is our intention to work on the annoyances of the general public against the government with active engagement of the public through peoples’ Right to Information (RTI). The 5W1H chart of the project is provided below:

What: A ranking index (similar to CPI by Transparency International) about the extent of accessibility of information that local bodies (Metropolitans, Sub-metros, Municipalities and VDCs) need to proactively divulge on a regular basis to keep taxpayers informed.

Why: Information is the citizen’s primary means to maintain balance in government and a precursor to democracy. We concluded that adequate disclosure of information helps to reduce blatant corruption as the public becomes a governing entity and proactive disclosure of information adds an aspect of responsibility and accountability in local bodies and the elected officials that oversee them. Furthermore, it is a legal obligation under the RTI Act (2007) to proactively disclose certain information by a public body and it is a fundamental right of the people to get the same, as enshrined in the constitution. 

Where: Through their respective websites. Owing to the fact that we live in the Technology Era, people find it convenient to extract information through online sources. Local bodies also have designated personnel to oversee maintenance of websites and other technological resources. Finally, as we are living through a global pandemic, updating information through websites makes the process easier and safer for both citizens and government officials. 

When: We intend to update this and rank local bodies at the end of every fiscal year.

Who: The assessment of local body websites are conducted by the team members of Citizen Collective for the initial sample size. As we move to expand the assessment to all 753 local bodies, this assessment will be conducted by volunteers (according to a written guide) and verified by the team.

How: 61 indicators were developed in order to adequately assess the information that are available in websites of local bodies and are weighted numerically to add up to a total score of 100. These indicators can be categorized into 20 categories that are backed by the Right to Information (RTI) Act and Rule providing a legal framework for the need to disclose this information. 

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