Ordinary citizens across the world are already using RTI for improving delivery of public services such as education and health.
South Africa: Using RTI to Get Water for A Village
People in the South African village of Emkhandlwini had no water, while neighbouring villages were getting water deliveries from municipal tankers. The villagers filed an RTI request for minutes of the council meetings in which water programmes had been discussed and agreed, and for the council’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP) and the IDP budget. This information showed that there were plans to deliver water throughout the region, but that somehow Emkhandlwini had been left out. Armed with this information, the villagers were able to successfully demand water for their village.
Uganda: Using RTI to Stop Corruption in Education System
In the Ugandan education system in the 1990s, lots of funds used to be transferred to schools via local authorities. However, a survey in the mid-1990s found that 80% of these funds never reached the schools. In response, the central government started publishing figures in local newspapers of the monthly transfers that had been made to local governments. This meant that both officials at the schools and parents of students could access information about the (intended) size of the transfers. A few years after the programme was started, the funds not reaching schools had dropped from 80% to 20%.
India: Using RTI to Repair a Village Bridge
In one village in India, the bridge spanning the stream next to the village had broken six years ago. Local people had been petitioning the government every year to have the bridge repaired, but the officials told them that the government had not yet allocated the required funds. As a result they had to travel an extra ten kilometres every day in order to go to the neighbouring town or to catch a bus from the main road.
After the Indian RTI Act was introduced, the villages submitted an RTI application asking the government for reasons why the bridge had not been repaired so far. In fifteen days they got a most surprising reply where the Commissioner’s office informed them that as per official records the funds for the repair of their bridge had been sanctioned five years ago and that the bridge had already been repaired. In fact, last year additional funds had been sanctioned to repaint the repaired bridge! However, as their RTI application suggested that the bridge had not actually been repaired, an inspection team was being sent to enquire into the matter. The inspection team found that the local officials had pocketed the sanctioned money and had certified on paper that the bridge had been repaired. Therefore, action was initiated against the guilty officials and the bridge was finally repaired in reality!
India: Using RTI for Getting Passport without Bribery
An 80-year old widow in India had applied for a passport to visit her children who lived abroad. Months had gone by and she still didn’t receive her passport. Whenever she went to the passport office to try and find out what the holdup was, she was accosted by touts who offered to get her the passport if she was willing to pay a hefty bribe. She then prepared an RTI request asking why she had not yet received her passport, who was responsible for the delay and what action the government intended to take against the responsible officer. When she arrived at the passport office and gave her RTI application to the concerned official, the official read her application, asked her to wait for a minute, went inside and came back with her passport, which he then handed to her – with the request that now that she had got her passport, she should not file the RTI application!
Pakistan: Using Freedom of Information (FOI) to Ensure Safe Drinking Water Supply in Islamabad
The Capital Development Authority (CDA) has installed water filtration plants in various locations in Islamabad to provide citizens with safe drinking water. However, following numerous complaints from residents about the quality of the water, an NGO submitted a FOI (another term for RTI) request to the CDA Water Management Division. They sought details related to water testing, frequency of changing the water filters, and display of information for the public. CDA did not respond to the FOI request, so the NGO complained to the Federal Ombudsman – following which the information was provided. This FOI request led to CDA taking more care to ensure safe drinking water, and even inviting the NGO’s representatives to accompany CDA officials when they changed some filters.
Thailand: Using RTI to Secure Education Entitlements
In early 1998, shortly after the Thai RTI law was first adopted, a parent, Sumalee Limpa-owart, used it to fight against corruption in the education system. Her daughter had been refused entry to a prestigious state-funded school. Admission was supposed to be based on a competitive entrance examination. Surprisingly, however, the student body was largely composed of children from elite families, suggesting that some form of bribery was involved. Sumalee sent a letter to the school requesting the marks and answer sheets of her daughter and the 120 students who were admitted. When she received no reply, she filed a petition under the Official Information Act and eventually appealed the case to the Official Information Commission, which ordered disclosure of the information. Sumalee was eventually given access to the answer sheets and marks in March 1999. By that time, the school had already admitted to corrupt practices in the processing of the admission of 38 students.