This is the first story of our new series Real Lives, Real Stories, written by staff from our national chapters in the Asia Pacific region. Stories about different people and different situations in different contexts, but with one common message: change is possible when citizens get involved, even when the odds seem stacked against them.
Today we are looking at the Maldives, where the incumbent president is facing serious corruption allegations while many opposition leaders and critics have been jailed, forced into exile or even killed over the last couple of years. Still, many people continue to stand up for transparency and accountability — this story is about them.
Malé, Capital of the Maldives
Easa, a 36-year-old activist, is arguing passionately with a receptionist at the Maldives Parliament. He is upset because his Right to Information (RTI) application form, seeking the names of parliamentarians who have submitted their asset declarations, has been rejected.
Easa is frustrated — this is the fourth government institution to reject his RTI application this month.
The receptionist explains to Easa that his RTI application cannot be processed because it is incomplete — he has left blank the field which asks him to give the reason why he is seeking to obtain the requested information.
Although the Maldives RTI Law does not require those seeking information to state their reason for doing so, the RTI application requires applicants to state this — a technical loophole that enables institutions to easily reject requests for information.
And Easa is not alone: hundreds of people seeking access to information have had their RTI requests denied because they left blank the “reason” field in their application.
“Information Officers in public institutions lack even very basic awareness of the RTI Act. Every time I submit an RTI application, I have to explain the RTI Act to the staff at the institution and I have to explain that I am not legally obliged to provide a reason for asking for information,” Easa explained, adding that no one should have to explain why they need access to public information.
Transparency International Maldives works with people like Easa, who are seeking access to information, to encourage more and more citizens to use the RTI application form as a tool to demand transparency in order to hold public officials accountable.
Looking to streamline access to public information since the passage of the RTI Act in 2013, TI Maldives has worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICOM) and has held several training sessions across the country to build the capacity of information officers and increase their knowledge of the RTI Law.
Subsequent lobbying efforts resulted in a notable policy impact in July 2017: the Information Commission changed the RTI application form by putting the word “optional” in the field which asks why the applicant requested information.“Even though it is a small technicality, this change will have tremendous implications for the way public information is demanded and supplied,” said Mariyam Shiuna, the Executive Director of TI Maldives. She added that this is a positive step forward in the work TI Maldives does to combat corruption and hold public officials accountable. Easa is delighted by the news: “Institutions can no longer reject my RTI applications. I’m hopeful that people will submit more RTI applications and seek more information, making it more difficult for public officials to be corrupt.”
Full details are available at the link below:
Source URL: Medium