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International Day for Universal Access to Information: TIB pivots on youth to use the power of information, calls for an end to the culture of secrecy in government offices

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) observed this year’s International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) with particular focus on capacity building for youths who can utilise the power of technology and e-governance based information gathering to curb corruption, protect fundamental rights, and promote good governance at institutions. TIB took month-long initiatives to train youths and government officials on the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which was implemented back in 2009 with the help of TIB in order to empower people and give them a fair chance in the difficult fight against corruption and government secrecy.

With corruption institutionalized in public offices, and the government gripping onto the colonial legacy of secrecy and suppression, people in Bangladesh find it immensely difficult to report, challenge, or question any forms of corruption and injustice. Restriction of information is also the government’s weapon of choice for curbing fundamental rights, enabling unhindered public looting, money laundering, and choking free press. But is there a way out of this deep-rooted crisis?

TIB knows that youths can lead the way. Bangladesh has more than 125 million internet users, mostly comprising of young people with the zeal to ensure social justice, accountability, equality, and a state free of corruption. TIB understands the power of youth and has centered its capacity building initiatives around young people, empowering them with the tools to fight corruption at the grassroots. At the RTI workshop, organised jointly by TIB and Kapaeeng Foundation, 25 indigenous youths from the remote Chittagong Hill Tracts participated and were trained in the details of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2009, and the process of submitting applications to get public information.

As part of month-long programmes centered around IDUAI, TIB also took the initiative to train designated information officers of different public institutions in order to enable people friendly behavioral changes, build capacity of information officers, and train government officials to eliminate the colonial culture of secrecy. A total of 58 government officials from 12 districts of Mymensingh and Rangpur divisions received a two-day online training on RTI this September in two phases (7-8 & 14-15 September).

Officials from law enforcement agencies, land offices, education institutes, and many administrative divisions of the government were trained by two experienced trainers.

TIB Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman thinks that coming out of the culture of secrecy and enabling transparency is difficult but achievable. In his closing remarks at the workshop for indigenous youths on right to information, he said, “Experiences and research findings show that countries with open access to public information can extensively protect human rights, establish good governance, and curb corruption. The RTI Act was supposed to end the culture of secrecy in public institutions, but there is still a long way to go as the government still dearly holds onto the colonial legacy of the Official Secrets Act, 1923. The mentality of government officials needs to change, and institutions must be modified to get out of this. At the same time, people, mostly the youths, must be made aware of their right to information and taught how information can be gathered in order to make them agents of change.”

Alongside national level events, TIB’s Civic Engagement Division arranged various local level programmes with 45 Committees of Concerned Citizens (CCC) offices to celebrate IDUAI. CCCs in Chattogram and Dinajpur divisions collaborated with the district administration, information office, law enforcement agencies, and local anti-corruption activists to mark the day by organizing rallies, discussion sessions, processions, and RTI inaugural sessions.

With TIB’s support, Youth Engagement and Support (YES) group members and enthusiastic students across Dhaka and other districts also took part in events promoting access to information.

Students from the Institute of Education and Research (IER), and Development Studies Department of the University of Dhaka, the YES group at the Asia Pacific University, and different student bodies took part in RTI orientation sessions, quiz competitions, rallies, and discussions with experts throughout the month of September.

Apart from the workshops, like every year, TIB also developed a cartoon sticker depicting how free and fair access to information can curb corruption, control bribes, ensure accountability, and empower the people.