The news of curtailment of information from public institutions is increasing. It was civil service rules and, this week, there was news that even the National Assembly came up with the rule prohibiting the media from interviewing members of parliament during the session including taking photos of members of parliament that would be considered negative. The institutions failed to realize that such measures are counterproductive and undemocratic and contribute significantly to the loss of confidence in these public institutions.

Article 7 Section 2 and 3 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression and the right to information. These rights are guaranteed because the public institutions are accountable to the public. The public institutions are accountable to the public because the elected members have pledged to serve the nation with numerous promises. Non-elected members or bureaucracy, including the judiciary and law enforcement agencies are established to provide services to the public and paid from the public exchequer and legally and constitutionally accountable to the public as their decisions affect the lives of everyone in the country. Thus, the public has the right to know about the investments in public servants. When accountability fails, these institutions are considered failed. There are numerous examples around the world.

 Further, the right to information, freedom of speech and opinion and right to information is enshrined in the Constitution to create transparency. Transparency is key to accountability. His Majesty said: “The highest probable risk to development that I foresee is corruption. Our national development efforts will be hindered by unchecked corruption.” His Majesty emphasised that if there is no oversight or monitoring a large number of resources may become waste and will breed corruption. Such failure can cause “disillusionment for the people and immense loss for the government and the country.” Corruption can be reduced only through transparency. Transparency can be ensured only if there is a free flow of information between the government and the people. Any measures or strategy that curtails or restrains information flow would cast doubts in the minds of the public. For example, if the courts make all the court decisions public, the confidence in the judiciary will be much higher because people can understand the reasons why the courts made such decisions.  When the administrative decisions are taken in secrecy, even with the best intentions, it is more likely to create disinformation and allegations.

 His Majesty, laying the foundations of our democracy, building public confidence through transparency, said: “When my Father and I introduced democracy in Bhutan in 2008, the most important objective we had in mind was to establish the rule of law, which would lead to good governance, which would further lead to transparency, fairness and impartiality in the working of the government and the realization of all our short term and long term national goals.”

 Public institutions must recognize that Article 1 (1) of the Constitution makes it explicit that the power belongs to the people and not the authorities. The media is merely an information facilitator, and its people use this information to hold the government accountable.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.