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RUBEENA MAHATO
This Is It
The right to know


RUBEENA MAHATO


A right to information (RTI) petition filed by an advocacy organisation and an order from the Rastriya Suchana Aayog later let the cat out of the bag this week.

The Finance Ministry which had earlier refused to disclose the list of VAT defaulters to parliament's Public Accounts Committee citing defaulters' right to confidentiality was forced to make the complete list public.

The list just provides names of firms, some of which are being investigated while others have since been given a clean chit. There is no information about the amount embezzled. The ministry hasn't even released the original investigation report where there is more detail. Nonetheless, the decision marks a watershed in the history of RTI in Nepal which, although touted as being the most progressive in the region, has never really been tested.

The general perception about RTI being solely the domain of journalism has also been broken by this incident. In fact, it has shown how citizens should take charge of their own rights because media is not always the safest bet. Fearing reprisal by advertisers, a large section of media previously hushed up the issue. When they should have proactively investigated it after an online portal first brought out the scam, the mainstream media played it down.

When there should have been pressure on the ministry to release more details, there was deafening silence in the big newspapers. The gap was filled by social media networks and blogs, which do not face advertiser pressure. However, internet sites are also not bound by defamation and libel restrictions, which means irresponsible anonymous postings can destroy reputations of the innocents as well.

People have criticised the disclosure of the list saying it harms business. No doubt, all firms on the list should not have been lumped together, and care should have been taken to ensure that the investigation process was not influenced. But if anyone is to be blamed for the lackadaisical and incomplete release of information, it is the ministry itself. There is no point condemning the RTI petition. In fact we should be demanding clearer and more detailed information. It was the suspicion that then Finance Minsiter Bharat Mohan Adhikari was protecting fraudsters in high place, for example, that forced Finance Secretary Rameswor Khanal to resign earlier this year.

On a recent lecture to Kathmandu journalists, The Hindu's investigative journalist P Sainath talked about how corporate media has "a structural compulsion to lie". This may be why we need citizen journalists who operate outside the incestuous network of business, politics, bureaucracy and the media. The mainstream press has time and again failed the test when it chooses to prioritise the concerns and interests of big business rather the public's interest. It is no wonder then that the big media which did not speak for the taxpayers' right to know is now bending over its back for the defaulters' right to confidentiality. Media's standard format of covering such stories is making them as vague as possible and withholding information.

The mainstream media should now be using the right to information petitions to uncover wrong-doing in high places. We should be holding politicians accountable by demanding information on their sources of funding, or asking NGOs to produce their balance sheets, demanding the list of human rights cases the government has decided to dismiss.

Barring few sensitive areas tied to defense and national security, in a democracy the public has the right to know information that directly affects it. In fact, governments should proactively provide all information relating to public offices in easily accessible and understandable format.

This is not just a theoretical exercise. Transparency is the biggest safeguard of democracy, information improves governance, and better governance lifts living standards.

Read also:
Guilty until proven innocent, PAAVAN MATHEMA
The names of alleged VAT evaders are public. Now what?



1. who cares
"which means irresponsible anonymous postings can destroy reputations of the innocents as well."

- my experience disagree. what i see is, most of those, not all, who use human names are either using false name or are trying to butter or are hanuman.

those who use same nickname look quiet honest. 




"..No doubt, all firms on the list should not have been lumped together, and care should have been taken to ensure that the investigation process was not influenced..."

i think they are under investigation. they have not been tagged 'guilty'.

by the way, names mentioned, are they the ones issuing fake bills or they are the ones who received fake bills? how can consumer identify which is fake and which is not? 

govt. should also investigate whether those receiving fake bills too are involved or not?



"The mainstream media should now be using the right to information petitions to uncover wrong-doing in high places. We should be holding politicians accountable by demanding information on their sources of funding, or asking NGOs to produce their balance sheets, demanding the list of human rights cases the government has decided to dismiss."


i totally agree.




those involved are not just criminals, but also, due to them the real business individual are unable to compete fairly. that is one of the main reasons individuals with ability are unable to rise and serve the society, utilize their full potential..... those involved in illegal activities should be fined more than 10 times their crime.  








2. M.R. Kansakar
May be businessmen are crooked. But  show me a politician who is not crooked. Show me a civil servant who is not crooked. A 'Khardar' a 'Subba' a Section Officer, a Secretary of a ministry possesing  buildings costing Crores of Rupees. Are they not crooked ? Why ares there known criminals in the CA (Constituent Assembly)? Why are they not removed from the CA ? Because all the politicians are guilty and they are afraid that a man like Tara Nath Dahal might be breathing down their necks. 99 % of these politicians have things to hide and they are afraid of scrutiny.. Is Tara Nath Dahal capable of doing some investigative journalism and dig the property of any one Secretary or Section Officer ? It is quite an easy job to get a list of the business houses and get some publicity. But investigative journalism is a different job.
Who the hell cares whether the bill is genuine or not.The shop who issues a vat bill has its Vat reg. No. displayed. It is not buyer's job to verify if it is fake or genuine If the vat bill a buyer gets is proved to be fake is he guilty ?or the person who gives the vat bill is guilty ? By all common sense, logic and Law of Equity the giver of the bill is guilty. Likewise the Business Houses who received the vat bills cannot be held guilty. The giver of the bills is guilty.
The public has a right to information. We have a right to know from where the political parties and politicians get their money to lavishly spend it



3. shivani
What everybody is forgetting in this debate is that probity in public life is part of a culture that is built over centuries. As soon socialists in general, and their sidekicks in particular, start the destruction of that culture no amount of RTI would save you from erosion in public confidence.

The problem with Nepal is that the culture that held it together as a cohesive society is dying and is getting hacked further everyday by communists and socialists. The RTI is just going to create a lot of noise and make no difference.
  


4. Soni
 "The Hindu's investigative journalist P Sainath talked about how corporate media has "a structural compulsion to lie"."

He is probably a communist. Propaganda is an essential feature of communist media, propaganda is an essential part of communist literature. The idea that corporate media has a structural compulsion to lie, flies in the face of truth. 

It is a matter of record that most scoops and undermining of corporate greed occurs at the most rapid pace in countries where funds itself by selling advertising space.

Check the bank bashing in the US/UK/ and other countries where "corporate media" rules the roost. They can do this because they are not government funded which has compulsive ideological values to safeguard for which all truth may be sacrificed.

Take the example of paid news that I found in Mr Sainath's website is illustrative. Had the newspapers been corporate funded with liberal rules governing content you could know how much money they were making and who was paying. Without it you would have corruption.

Now, look further and imagine what would happen if you did not have a corporate funded media, what would it be? Nepal is an example, media is political and crony funded which means that all truth has to be twisted in favour of the political establishment (which is really all the parties). That is, it would like reading the Pravda under different names and logos.

The VAT scam is an example. Where were the auditors? Is there a proposal to change the auditing mechanism? No. Instead it is greedy capitalists versus the poor people. Truth is, the poor would benefit by not paying a VAT, right?

Second is the issue of an information deluge. It is all nice and sassy to demand as much information as possible but to what end?

It would be much better if there were intelligent proposals and options and ideas. Would it be more economical and less intrusive to the field of governance if there were to be layers of legislation?

That is if you are dealing with the government and your work is delayed you should have a right to know why and information on the entire procedure? How to enhance VAT collection? Are there solutions through automation? Closer review of financial statements? Disclosure requirements which would show an anomaly in the amount of tax paid?

You can't prevent corruption and end it totally. What you can however do is that you can make it so expensive when you are caught that thinking of it would be useless for any business, and then ensure that organisations are actively monitored to ensure compliance and prosecuted when in violation to create deterrence.


5. jange

The general perception about RTI being solely the domain of journalism has also been broken by this incident.

If correct then it is indeed progress.



6. Anuj
We don't need right to information. Keep that information, eat it whatever. What's the big deal?  Ever seen the real world? Some pretty face just out of college teaching us. How old are you? Live with your illusions. This country is cursed. Stop dreaming. 

7. analyst
someone tell #6 that he is anally retentive and is going to grow up to be a grumpy old man.


8. bee
Anuj,
Be thankful and appreciate your luck: you deserve to be taught by a middle-school graduate.

What world have you seen? I'm sure you have an ugly face and I understand your need to hate the world. Well, there's a solution- you can die. Nobody will complain.


9. anarchy
 What if the suspicion turns out to be real?? Are they still gonna get immunity? Or some mere fines....no jail times??I say what? Investigate all the claims & if found guilty, lock 'em up one by one. Please...please...please...have some 'rule of law' in the country. 
So, where's the 'tax-evaded' money going? Is it going to lavish the lifestyle of the business owner OR is it going overseas to establish another business there? I guess it's a crime to launder money outside the country without government's permission. Right on, they can be charged with 'Money Laundering' & 'Tax Evasion'. That's all I know. 


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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