Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE), the apex organisation of public sector enterprises, has been interfacing with government, regulatory bodies and policy makers on various aspects of RTI Act and its implementation. SCOPE's director general UD Choubey spoke to Hindustan Times on a range of issues. Excerpts:
What is the general impression regarding RTI among public sector enterprises (PSEs)?
The RTI Act came into effect in 2005 and was initially considered a necessary evil. However, eventually, it was found that the RTI Act has brought transparency and aided in better decision-making process.
As a result, it has enhanced the image of PSEs, not only in the eyes of investors, stakeholders, government and civil society at large, but also in the international corporate sector.
Therefore, PSEs have come forward and adopted RTI in the best of spirit even though there are some practical difficulties.
What, in your view, are the difficulties in adopting RTI?
There is a need to review and introduce a broader negative list in order to curb unhealthy practice of clarifications being sought by vested interests on the pretext of RTI.
This has an unconstructive impact on the efficiency and productivity of the PSEs and has adverse effects on the competitiveness in the long run.
Interestingly, there is no such provision or compliance mechanism in case of non-governmental and non-public sectors.
Do you think RTI should be extended to private sector?
RTI Act is basically aimed at 'cleaning' the system where public money is involved. And all money is public money, if it is not black money. Therefore, there is a need to bring all sectors, public as well as private, under the RTI Act.
In the changing scenario, economy is being subjected to the dynamics of privatisation and with the idea of PPP (Public Private Partnership) coming of age, the flow of 'public money' going into private hands is being encouraged as a healthy evolution towards liberalisation.
Corporates have equity investment from public and so have NGOs in the forms of funding for corporate social responsibility. Cleaning the system is the ultimate objective of all such checks and balances. Thus, the private sector cannot and should not be left without checks and balances like internal and external audits, including those by the CAG and above all, RTI.
Do you think similar practice is prevalent abroad?
Yes. As many as 18 countries have already brought their private sector under some or the other version of RTI.
Though the legislative ambit varies from country to country, generally all those who primarily deal with public utility and social services have been brought under RTI.
These countries include the UK, Turkey, South Africa, Poland, France, Finland, the Czech Republic, Columbia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, etc.