TAI Thailand promoting access rights in Constitution and other Acts
Pro Public, the leader of the TAI Nepal Coalition, is looking for ways to influence the Constituent Assembly, the government body mandated to write the new constitution for the Republic of Nepal, in order to enshrine access into the highest law of the country. The Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), which carried out a similar, successful campaign in Thailand has this advice for Nepal (below the fold):
The Thailand Environment Institute has been working on TAI in Thailand since 2001. We included relevant partners in our TAI Thailand coalition. We already conducted 3 national assessments. For each assessment, we had 25-30 distinguished persons in our advisory committee. They are from agencies (Director General level) relevant to our case studies and also from Constitution-related agencies. We held a public conference (with 200+ participants from various stakeholders) after each national assessment. This was our ground work.
When a new constitution was being drafted in 2007, we held a small workshop of key relevant participants, discussing and making recommendations related to access rights in 3 laws: the new Constitution, Public Participation Act (not yet in existence) and the amendment of the Official Information Act 1997.
Once the draft Constitution was completed, the government allowed a period for people’s comments. We then held a public dialogue of 400+ participants to discuss and make recommendations on the issue of environmental governance in the new Constitution. At this dialogue, we made specific comments to specific articles in the draft Constitution. We submitted them to the Constitutional Drafting Committee and a few other agencies/bodies.
Some of our partners are also in the drafting committee or working committees. We also worked through our partners’ networks. Our coalition’s recommendations were circulated to grassroots NGOs in the provinces as well so that recommendations from various forums will resonate with each other.
We have been successful in influencing the Constitution. Yet, we have not been successful in pushing a Public Participation Act as yet. One of our TAI partners, King Prajadhipok’s Institute, is now leading an effort to propose 3 new Acts related to public participation. Other partners are also working on other Acts which are related to access rights. TEI is also involved in these efforts.
Last week, on 9 July 2008, we (TEI, TAI Thailand coalition and 34 other organizations - some of them are governmental although most are NGOs - few from private sector) held a workshop of 270 participants (including impacted persons from outside Bangkok, Thailand) to identify types of environment- and health-related information that should be classified as ‘public information,’ which the authorities should make readily available to the public without people having to request it. This is to implement Article 9(8) of the Official Information Act 1997. We hope to submit recommendations to the Office of Official Information Commission (who also was one of our co-organizers of the above workshop). This is to enable them to submit it to their Board (the approval authority). We also invited two members of this Board, who are sympathetic to our course, to speak at the workshop.
In short, our strategy is to involve the decision makers or those who have access to the decision-making processes in our activities. Our effort is to create an opportunity to involve them. At the same time, we also keep the civil society informed and involved. It is important to maintain and expand our networks. The networks can be either formal or informal. They can also be loose. Each partner or organization in the networks can also promote access rights on their own through their own channels, which help strengthen our collective efforts.
In Thailand we have active people’s movement for the past decades, especially in the areas of environment (2 decades), health and human’s rights (especially after the Constitution 1997). There also are several ongoing environment- and development-related disputes. People are therefore aware of the issue.
It is also strategic to identify sympathetic officials in governmental agencies or the agencies whose mandates support access rights.