The Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) model public service code of conduct on disclosure of information, which bars public servants to disclose official information, including even non-confidential ones without authorization from the superiors, is yet another blow to access and right to information while being outright draconian to our citizen’s fundamental right to expression.
What is baffling is the fact that the ACC, who are considered the premier institution that holds the mandate to fight corruption in the country, and who is charting out this new reform, simply seems out of place.
The ACC, as a constitutional office who is mandated to promote transparency and accountability, is advocating confidentiality with this new rule while snubbing citizen’s freedom to voice and expression, and also building an iron curtain with the media fraternity.
While the ACC maintains that the model code does not infringe on one’s freedom of speech, they have laid a host of derivatives that simply speaks otherwise and reeks of curtailing media freedom and right to expression among others.
ACC states that irresponsible, un-regulated, vested and haywire disclosure of information by any public servant could impair national interest and prejudice the right of another, and that the Model Code tries to strike a balance between the right to freedom of speech and the need to protect official information that has a bearing on national interest and rights of others.
However, while these features might seem apt to put a gag on government servants, it, on the contrary, sounds designed to stifle the citizen’s right to meaningful discourse and criticisms which are the bedrock on which many sound democracies across the world are built.
To simply put it in lay man’s terms, these reforms seemingly appear or are designed in such a way so that access to information is curtailed albeit in a subtle way.
The ACC as the premier institute who is mandated to fight corruption in the country is expected to pave new roads towards ensuring citizens freedom and access to information, because information is a mighty tool they can rely on to help further their mandates. Simply stifling and placing rock blocks on its access and dissemination would come back to sting them at a later stage.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan guarantees freedom of press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information including electronic. Playing party to an agent that strangulates these fundamental rights, at the first place, should never have been a sound move that is expected of a hallowed institute as the ACC.
As a small nation we cannot afford to build walls that will disintegrate us, but connect bridges that will ultimately link us to achieve our cherished common goals.