NEWSLETTER VOLUME 3, AUGUST-OCTOBER 2019

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DIALOGUE FOR CHANGE

PLATFORMS FOR DIALOGUE QUARTERLY HIGHLIGHTS

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Right to Information Day: Promoting Access to Social Accountability

According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, all powers of theRepublic belong to the people. Many citizens, however, are unaware of their rights and available public resources, including their right to information. To help address this issue, in2009, the Right to Information Act (RTI) was introduced to establish the ownership of the constitution amongst the people. Platforms for Dialogue (P4D), a European Union-funded project in partnership with the Cabinet Division and implemented through the British Council, is promoting a variety of mechanisms, including the RTI, to improve government accountability and increase citizen participation in decision making.

On September 28th, to celebrate the UNESCO designated International Day for the Universal Access to Information, P4D promoted citizens’ right to information and government services by successfully hosting events across all 21 project districts. Coined the Right to Information Day, P4D coordinated with 63 civil society partners, Multi-ActorPartner groups (MAPs), local NGOs, and government agencies to organise various community events to promote the RTI. P4D supported local partners to host rallies, discussion forums, cultural events, quiz contests, and awareness-raising workshops. Theone-day event boasted over 6,300 participants across the country, nearly half of whom were women. To date, this was one of the project’s largest coordinated community and volunteer-led events.

According to a recent study from ProfessorAfsan Chowdhury at BRAC University, ‘3 out of 4 people [are] unaware of RTI, and only 1in 20 have seen RTI in operation.’ In an effort to improve these staggering statistics, P4D’sevents were designed to inform local citizens of the Right to Information Act, 2009 and to provide practical and relevant instruction on how to’ obtain information from any service providing agency.

Educating the public on the RTI is important because information bridges the gap between government service agencies and citizens in need of their services. Information is power, and accurate and timely access to information enables citizens to make informed decisions about their own lives. One MAPmember, Md. Tazul Islam from Munshiganj district said, “this event really helped me a lot to know more about RTI act and its usages. I learned how to collect information properly by using this act. This will indeed help me to get useful information.” Another attendee, co-organizing Secretary, Rubel Ukil, of Ulpur Jubo Kallan Parishad, Gopalganj, stated,“this is the first time RTI day is being observed with our leadership. While observing the day we had the opportunity to come close with Government officials, Union Parishad representatives, Journalists, community people, NGOs and other stakeholders. From the speech of different government officials, we learned how the RTI Act can help us to curb corruption.” With a more informed and proactive public, local authorities are not only motivated to improve their accountability and transparency, but informed communities are collectively improving their wellbeing.

Throughout Bangladesh, many citizens are unaware of how to access public services. Uninformed communities especially suffer when they don’t know what public services are even available to them in the first place. To give local communities the tools and information they need to learn about and access public services, Platforms for Dialogue(P4D), has helped finalise the 2nd generation of the Citizen’s Charter in 21 districts.

The Citizen’s Charter is a written agreement between citizens and government service providers detailing service-related information and ways to access those services. Originally, the Citizen’s Charter was introduced by the Government of Bangladesh in 2007, however, after government review, a2nd generation Citizen’s Charter was released in 2017. The charter, which is tailored for each department, aims to bring transparency and accountability to public service delivery by providing detailed information on available public services and the steps citizens must take to access those services. Moreover, it plays a vital role in providing citizens with information related to services, increasing citizens’ participation in public service delivery, and holding civil servants accountable.

As part of a tremendous collaborative effort, elected members, chairmen, secretaries of Union Parishads (UPs), and community members, working with P4D staff, CSO partners, and the Cabinet Division for a month to draft and finalise the Citizen’s Charter in project districts. In September of this year, the 2nd generation of the charter was finally introduced and installed at62 UPs and 1 Pourasava in 21 districts.

Social Action Project Exhibitions

To engage local communities in social advocacy projects, Platforms for Dialogue (P4D) has been partnering with civil society organisations (CSOs) and multi-Actor Partnerships (MAPs)around the country to coordinate social Action Projects (SAPs).SAPs range in focus from community cleanups to advocating for important local issues, to community workshops and trainings on public services. To highlight some of the most successful SAPsand to share best practices, P4Dis organising exhibitions of variousSAPs in each of the 21 working districts between September and November.

The SAPs predominantly focus on advocacy and campaign efforts to highlight social issues affecting their communities, like improving awareness of rights, increasing access to government services, and educating local communities on sensitive issues like child marriage. The exhibitions aim to encourage citizens to increase their engagement in local development and to use social accountability tools to access their rights. By educating and enabling community members, it not only improves their own wellbeing but it also strengthens accountability for both government and non-government service delivery in their district.

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