Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Misplaced emphasis

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 9, 2006

Misplaced emphasis
H J Gantzer


The ruckus over access to file notings, under the Right to Information Act, 2005, is quite unnecessary, and it could be counterproductive. File notings are only advice; they are not decisions.

Under the bureaucratic Whitehall System, inherited from the British, when a file is opened, it has two parts. Letters are filed on the right, in the sequence of their receipt or dispatch.

On the left are note-sheets. These note sheets hold the file notings. When a letter is received it is filed and numbered on the right, and an entry is made on the note-sheet on the left.

The file is then circulated through the complex network that is the bureaucracy so that everyone, who is expected to know anything about the subject, can offer comments. Let’s take a hypothetical example.

The secretary of a club, one of whose members is the local admiral, wants to know if the club can use the grounds of a naval air station as a golf course, when aircraft are not flying.

He writes a letter to the admiral who calls for the comments of his staff officers. This letter, in accordance with the teachings of the Staff College, Wellington, is inserted into a new file titled ‘Airfield…Golf Club: Use by Members as…’ The letter is minuted on the noting sheet under 1 followed by the admiral’s query ‘Can this be done?’ The file begins to circulate.

‘I see no harm in it’, notes the chief staff officer, but then adds as a matter of abundant caution, ‘What are the legal and other implications?’ The judge-advocate opines, ‘There are no legal impediments, per se, since civilians can join the officers’ institute.

But the commander (air) must clear it from the aviation point of view’. The commander (air) notes, ‘No objection if all players are off the grounds and all flags and other markers are removed an hour before and after take-offs and landings and within five minutes of all emergencies.

But I would like security to have their say’. The provost marshal is cautious, ‘All civilian club members will have to undergo security clearance, and carry temporary identity cards to be renewed every month.

These will require personal validation by the admiral every time, under the provisions of the current command security memos’. The file goes back to the admiral who bellows, ‘Who made these security memos?’

His secretary coughs politely and says, ‘You did, sir; a year ago, after the false alarm over the pen drive case’.

The admiral sends a polite letter back to the secretary of his golf club saying that ‘Most regrettably, under the present circumstances, the use of the grounds of the naval air station by your club cannot be permitted’.

Let us presume that such notings can be accessed by a common citizen. Who can he hold responsible for that decision? Clearly not the admiral’s staff officers for expressing their points of view.

The only one who can be held accountable for this decision is the admiral. And under the RTI he is the only one who can be compelled to provide an answer.

Similarly, the head of department in any government organisation is also the only one who can be held accountable for any delays in his organisation, whether it is in the issuing of ration cards, certificates, and answering queries from the public or anything else.

Strictly enforced accountability is also the only way to combat corruption because no corrupt person will make a file noting expressing his desire to take a bribe.

If file notings are made available as a matter of legal right, it will open an escape hatch for devious administrators. It will encourage them to argue: ‘I made that decision because I was advised to’.

That, in fact, is exactly why the Whitehall System requires such advisers to express their opinions in writing on file notings. You have been given file notings legally.

‘Why don’t you charge those officials for giving me wrong advice? Why hold me responsible?’ the top boss would argue. RTI should not be diluted to expose a welter of conflicting opinions. It should be used to enforce strict, and personal, accountability.

The writer was judge-advocate in the Indian Navy.


7 Responses to “Misplaced emphasis”

  1. Vor Allem, da Putin nun in dieses Spiel eingestiegen ist und, laut Steiner, der Zusammenschluss mit Deutschland und Russland
    das Ziel der nächsten Stufe der Menschheit ist.

  2. Der Schlüssel zu einer gesunden Ernährung und einem gesunden Gewicht liegt auch hier
    zuerst im Kopf – und damit im bewussten Essen.

  3. Die Wahrscheinlichkeit eines Herzinfarkts oder einer Verengung
    der Arterien der Arme und Beine nimmt zu.

  4. Theresa said

    Dann müssen alle verpackten Lebensmittel bestimmte
    Nährwertangaben aufweisen, unter anderem auch den Kochsalzgehalt.

  5. Wer über alle wichtigen gesundheitlichen Dinge informiert sein möchte, muss auch über die Aminosäuren informiert sein.

  6. Bestimmte Formen von Stress können den Blutdruck in die Höhe treiben und damit das Risiko für Herzerkrankungen steigern.

  7. Um eine spätere Reparatur zu ermöglichen, muss das betroffene Areal trocken und sauber bleiben.

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