Twaweza played host last week to two activists from India: Nikhil Dey of MKSS and Kiran Bhatty of the Centre for Policy Research. Nikhil is a leading right to information activist, and Kiran an expert in conducting social audits in education.
As well as internal learning sessions, Twaweza co-hosted discussions with the Foundation for Civil Society and the Media Council of Tanzania for their members, a public seminar, and meetings with Twaweza-partners Femina, Restless Development and Change Tanzania. Nikhil and Kiran shared their experiences, including this video on the Right to Information in India:
Nikhil focussed on the story of the Right to Information (RTI) in India. It emerged as a grassroots campaign in Rajasthan State, focussed on the needs of people in rural areas: am I getting the wages I am entitled to, is there corruption in public works in my village? From there, it grew into a national campaign, and eventually the Right to Information Act of 2005 was passed.
The Act has transformed the relationship between citizens and their government. According to Nikhil, there are now 5-8 million right to information requests submitted annually, and many more cases where the government simply releases information and formal requests are unnecessary.
“Today’s scams are being found out, tomorrow’s scams are being prevented,” said Nikhil. Government is doing things differently, working more in public interest, because they know that their work may become the subject of an RTI request. And he explained that the Right to Information protects government officials with integrity against demands for abuse of resources: “we can’t do that,” they say, “RTI will reveal it.”
Kiran Bhatty focussed on the use of social audits as a tool for increasing community participation and improving governance of schools. Information is gathered from a variety of sources (including through the RTI Act and local household surveys) on the state of local schools, which is processed and demystified, then shared in a public dialogue with education sector officials, facilitated by an independent party.
The experience of social audits and right to information India offers many potentially valuable lessons for Twaweza, and for East Africa. In particular, with a Freedom of Information law having been promised in Tanzania (through the Open Government Partnership), there are opportunities to learn from India on crafting a good law, and on mobilising the Tanzanian public to make use of the law. As Nikhil said: "The Right to Information has worked in India because people have used it."
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