Evolution

The idea of setting up a regional group, with global membership, was first mooted in March, 2010, in the regional workshop on transparent and accountable governance, in Delhi. This proposal was further discussed and the formation of a regional group announced on the side-lines of the National Convention on the Right to Information, Kathmandu, Nepal, in March 2011. International experts were brought on board in the Patna RTI workshop, in March 2012, and on the sidelines of the RTI Seminar in Thimpu, Bhutan, in May 2012. TAG started formally functioning from 1 September 2012, and had its first exclusive meeting in January 2013, in Bangkok, where members from South Asia, and other transparency experts from Asia, participated.

Even before the formal constitution of TAG, those involved in setting it up took on the challenge of advising the Government of Bhutan on their proposed Right to Information Bill. Not only were detailed comments sent to the Government of Bhutan, but some of those involved also went to Thimpu to discuss the suggestions with the government and with other stake holders.

Since the setting up of TAG, it has adopted a work plan, which was endorsed by the members and other experts present at the Bangkok meeting.

Objectives and Modes of Functioning

Objectives

The Patna meeting discussed in detail the desirable objectives of such a group. It was thought that the group should define its functions keeping in mind the needs of the region and the strengths and weaknesses of those associated with TAG. As some members of the group are serving members of national information commissions, and others are very senior people from various related professions and walks of life, it was thought inappropriate for the group to be overly political or militant as a pressure group. The consensus that emerged was that it should primarily function as a think tank that can identify, discuss and give its views and recommendations on some of the main issues, problems, constraints and opportunities related to transparency regimes. It could be consulted by governments and other stake holders and also offer unsolicited advice and function as a pressure group for promoting transparency.

Primarily through the good offices of expert members from other regions of the world, TAG would encourage the setting up of similar regional advisory groups on transparency in other parts of the world, and collaborate and cooperate with each other’s regional activities and debates, while jointly pushing the global agenda for greater transparency in governance.

Modes of Functioning

Mostly the group would function through emails, where a facilitator would circulate, to members, documents on which their response and considered views are solicited. Anyone (including any member) wanting to seek the groups advice on any matter, would send the concerned documentation to the facilitator, who would circulate it to the group in an appropriate form. The facilitator would also keep the members informed of any major developments in the region (or in other regions) that might be communicated to her by a member or someone else. An effort would be made to keep the number of emails sent to members to the minimum, ideally not more than one a fortnight, to start with. It is also proposed to arrange matters such that most, if not all, of the members can meet at least once a year on the side-lines of some transparency related event where their participation can be ensured. This would be easier within the region but could also work globally.

If the need is felt, resources could be raised as the group becomes more active, to further formalise interaction and to provide greater secretarial and communication support to the group and its members. 

Significance

Though in most of the countries of South Asia, and in many countries elsewhere, there are active groups and NGOs working at ensuring greater transparency in governance, they mostly work at a national level and have sporadic and unstructured interactions with groups in other countries. Also, they have little access to international bodies, and to senior people within the government, within information commissions, or within other expert institutions. TAG, with senior activists, academics, information commissioners and government functionaries as members, could provide the type of support and advice that is currently hard to find.

A group like this could also bring together a diversity of perspectives and experience that could significantly strengthen the support systems available to governments, people’s movements and other stakeholders. In those countries where national initiatives are yet to fully blossom, such a group would be able to help support national efforts towards transparency till indigenous efforts become optimal.

Most important, transparency regimes across the world have been typified by individual and institutional innovations on an unprecedented scale. Though the challenges confronting transparency regimes in various countries are often similar, each country has evolved its own solutions. Therefore, there is much to be learnt from each other before the fledgling global movement for transparency reaches full maturity.



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