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“Information is a global resource of unlimited potential”
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“Information is a global resource of unlimited potential”

In Bangladesh the rural poor, particularly women, face a substantial information gap that prevents access to vital information about local resources. Right to Information legislation can change that, says Mehzabin Ahmed, 29, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Dhaka in Bangladesh.

On September 28th, communities across the globe celebrate Right to Know Day.

Lack of access to information is increasingly recognized as a key barrier that hinders socio-economic development of the poor.

In Bangladesh the rural poor, particularly women, face a substantial information gap that prevents access to vital information about local resources, services, and their rights and entitlements.

The Right To Information Act (2009) takes a progressive step towards strengthening democracy by declaring constitutional commitment to freedom of thought, conscience and speech as a fundamental right.

The act provides an enormous opportunity for the citizens of Bangladesh to overcome the barriers that impede access to information. It has the potential to empower citizens, especially the rural poor, by increasing access to information about government service delivery and resources, and by boosting citizen ability to voice demands.

Through the RTI Act, citizens can apply for information about health, education, agriculture, safety nets and even what medicine is available for free at the sub-district Health Complex.

The Act can come to community aid with information regarding incomplete local road construction or gas and electricity application approvals.

The RTI Act has provided citizens with a tool to hold the government accountable about how their tax money is being spent. It also eases access to crucial information affecting their lives and livelihoods.

However, while the RTI Act has gained enormous popularity in our neighbour India, the RTI Act in Bangladesh faces a number of challenges on both the demand and supply side.

Full implementation of the RTI Act has been slow. A large portion of citizens in rural areas are unaware of the Act and its widespread implications, which hinders their ability to make information demands.

Effective implementation of the Act will take concerted effort by government and non-government sectors, along with the civil society. Mass awareness campaigns and community capacity building can pave the way for more participation, especially on the local level.

Information is a global resource of unlimited potential for all. Through an effective RTI Act, active citizens and an accountable government have enormous potential to ease the pathway toward achieving Millennium Development Goals.

As the closest tier of the government to its citizens, the local government especially has a crucial role to play in this regard.

Let us stand together in solidarity to promote access to information as a fundamental human right for all.

*Mehzabin Ahmed and Kallol Barua are coauthors of the book, “Right to Information Act Handbook”, edited by Kazi Nazrul Fattah, a publication under the Creating Awareness on RTI Law for Community Empowerment Project of BRAC Community Empowerment Programme, with support from The World Bank.

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About me:

“I come from Bangladesh, home to the Royal Bengal tigers and the longest natural beach in the world. I am passionate about working for sustainable solutions to development. I currently work as a development practitioner in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am also a freelance journalist and a novice debater.

“I am bilingual in Bangla and English. I love learning new languages, and am a keen but elementary student of French. What I have learnt from wise words and life experiences is that, “If you want others to change, you have to be willing to change yourself as well”. Feel free to call me Simi.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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