The previous government’s draft of the Right to Information Law is likely to undergo a review process starting as early as this month, according to National League for Democracy Central Information Committee member U Aung Shin.
The USDP approved the draft law and attempted to rush it through while it was still the dominant party in government, according to U Aung Shin. But due to the contents of the law, it was held back for debate.
“The draft was approved by the previous government, but when they discussed the law, there were many objections. They tried to enact the law during their time but were unable to pass it in time,” U Aung Shin told The Global New Light of Myanmar.
The Right to Information Law is designed to promote open governance by allowing citizens access to public information. It would see an Information Officer appointed to all government organisations within 120 days of the bill being signed by the president.
U Thiha Saw, executive director of the Myanmar Journalism Institute, said the major issue raised at the stakeholder meeting was the belief of the previous Minister of Information, U Ye Htut, and Permanent Secretary U Tint Swe that the ministry should run the scrutinising committee.
Section 10 of the draft states that if a request is denied, the complainant can request that the Union government review the case along with the government bodies that rejected the request, and a decision would have to be made within 60 days.
If the complainant is unhappy with the decision following the review, they may take the case to court.
However, U Thiha Saw said stakeholders believe there should be an independent body in charge of the process—not the government.
“We still don’t trust them because of the old bureaucrats. There needs to be an independent body.”
Several attempts were made to contact the Ministry of Information for comment, but no calls were returned before the time of print.
Article 19, a human rights group aimed at promoting freedom of expression and information, noted that the law is “overly broad and [has] unclear exemptions”.
“The draft does not define exemptions properly and includes exemptions that are not acceptable under international standards. For example, ‘national security’ is not defined and could, therefore, include virtually anything,” the group said.
Article 19 also pointed out that the draft law protects ‘prominent persons’ who could be guilty of corruption and that appeals costs could potentially be expensive, as they are not outlined in the draft law.
“It also limits the law to citizens,” Article 19 argued on a online statement.
“Under international law, all persons have a right to information.”
The group fears this could be used to discriminate against, “ethnic minorities or marginalised groups”.
At this year’s Freedom of Press Day conference, where the theme was the right to information, held at the Chatrium Hotel on 3 May, Union Minister for Information Dr Pe Myint said that due to his history as a writer he, “values freedoms and is ready to work toward press freedom in Myanmar.”