Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE) is the apex body of the central government owned public enterprises. UD Choubey, director general, SCOPE, is of the view that the purview of the RTI should be extended to private corporates also. He strongly feels that at least a beginning should be made by bringing the listed companies and NGOs under RTI. Excerpts:
What are the arguments in favour for widening RTI’s ambit to cover private sector?
The landscape of Indian economy has changed and so has the way India conducts its business. Private participation, especially in the form of public-private-partnership (PPP), has been increasing in core sectors of the economy which earlier were exclusively in the public domain. Besides, general public have vouchsafed their money in the form of equity with public and private companies. This investment, given the back-drop of increasing misuse of the same (rising corruption), needs to be safe guarded through well orchestrated checks and balances.
How do liberalisation and PPP validate arguments in favour of extending RTI to private sector?
The most prominent trend of post liberalisation era has been a shift of service deliverables from the public to private sector. Privatisation and the PPP model have opened up sectors like telecommunications, education, insurance etc to private domain. It is apparent that there would be an undeniable loss of claim over information from sectors which have shifted from public to private hands if private sector is not made answerable for the information it holds. Thus it stands to reason that the system of accountability and transparency would be compromised if RTI doesn’t include private sectors. They are being trusted with country’s key economic-growth drivers and it is expected to act in responsible way by opening to social audit.
How have countries handled the concept of freedom of information?
As many as 18 countries have already brought their private sector under some version of RTI. All follow the basic reasoning of the need of bringing business/service delivering bodies under the RTI if they perform public and social service like education and healthcare. They are South Africa, Angola, Armenia, Colombia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Panama, Poland, Peru, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, Slovakia, and the UK.
Where and how do NGOs come into the picture?
Mushrooming of number of NGOs brings forth a need to cover and screen their activities to check their compliance standards. The funding is out of public domain and hence a social audit of their work-processes in called for. Additionally, along the same line of reasoning, all R&D expenditures whether public or private need to be brought under social audit for taking tax benefit in the name of R&D incentives."