RANGOON – Following a two-day media conference at Rangoon’s Chatrium Hotel earlier this week, many media experts urged the National League for Democracy government to enact a “Right to Information Law” in order to make government data more transparent to the public.
Official government information in Burma is difficult to obtain, despite the News Media Law that is supposed to grant access to journalists. For ordinary citizens, there is no such law.
Former Upper House lawmaker and member of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission U Tin Maung Oo said Burma has had more than 1,600 laws enacted since the colonial era—almost 400 under the previous government—but only a few were related to the media industry.
U Tin Maung Oo said that while the Constitution and news media law state that journalists can seek government information, they face many barriers in doing so.
“A right-to-know law is necessary for citizens,” he added.
According to U Tin Maung Oo, the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission plans to introduce 51 new laws and terminate about 50 laws. The right to information law is contained in that agenda and a draft law will soon be submitted to Parliament.
Daw Nwe Zin Win, a conference panelist and executive director of non-governmental organization Pyi Gyi Khin, said former President Thein Sein enacted many laws without consulting with civil society organizations. She added that the government should invite organizations to comment on the law, as many citizens are simply unfamiliar with the terminology in the laws.
She suggested that the right to information law should grant citizens the right to request documents from the government free of charge, and that it should specify the type of documents that must be provided, how to request them, a response period, and penalties for officials who do not comply with the law.
Toby Mendel of the Center for Law and Democracy told The Irrawaddy at the conference that more than 100 countries around the world have similar right to information laws, including Southeast Asian neighbors Thailand and Sri Lanka.
He added that the law should be enacted to improve transparency, responsibility and accountability.