India should prevent bids to weaken RTI: Transparency International

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Global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International has pointed out that the implementation of India’s Right to Information Act (RTI) to fight corruption is limited and is not living up to expectations.

In a report titled Fighting Corruption in South Asia: Building Accountability, the anti corruption group said that India must halt any further attempts to weaken its exemplary RTI.

“In particular, the recent exemption of the CBI from many critical aspects of the act should be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Recent moves have been made by the government to whittle down the RTI Act by bringing in amendments that restrict disclosure,” said the report. “The most controversial amendment concerned the exemption of the central bureau of investigation from responding to the majority of the requests. As a result the bureau rejected almost half of the information requests in handled in 2011-12,” added the report.

The report analysed how well 70 national institutions in Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka stop corruption.

The report also suggested that India should review its recently introduced Whistle Blowers Protection Act as soon as possible with a view to broadening its scope and ensuring that the guarantee of protection for whistleblowers is watertight. The report said that there is almost no legal protection for whistleblowers in the countries.

Moreover, the agency responsible for implementing the act lacks adequate powers and has a poor record of enquiring into complaints and imposing penalties.

“Anonymous complaints should be permitted, an appeal process should be established for anyone accused of false complaints and penalties for “victimisation” of complainants should be defined,” suggested the Transparency International report.

In all six countries, corruption fighters in government and ordinary people alike who want to report, expose, investigate or prosecute corruption face legal barriers, political opposition and harassment that allow bribery, secret dealings and the abuse of power to go unchecked, the report warned.

“How does a region with such strong economic growth still have such high levels of poverty? The answer is corruption. It allows the few to profit without answering for the actions,” said Transparency International’s director Srirak Plipat.

“As long as nobody brings the corrupt to justice, South Asia’s leaders run the risk that future growth only benefits the powerful, doing nothing to help the half billion South Asians who still live in poverty.”

All the six countries scored under 40 out of 100 on the corruption perceptions index, said the report. Governments are able to influence what cases come under scrutiny by placing allies in key positions, the report warned. This effectively makes political power a ticket to impunity for corruption. In Bangladesh, for example, only 10 per cent of cases lead to conviction.

When independent and free to act, anti-corruption bodies can bring corruption to light and the corrupt to justice, Transparency International said, citing the example of Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau which in 2007 exposed the Double Shah Scam which helped 40000 fraud victims recover $23 million.



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