Right to Information

Citizens’ right of access to information is in plight in Pakistan – Do you know how?

ISLAMABAD: A recent study has revealed that the culture of secrecy is still prevailing in almost all ministries and other public bodies as most of the information requests sent by the citizens for the purpose went unheard.

The study titled “Measuring the Right to Information implementation” discloses that “the culture of secrecy is still prevailing in almost all ministries as most of the information requests sent for the purpose went unheard”.

The study report was launched at a seminar in Islamabad on Monday. Speakers at the seminar were in consensus that every citizen has the right to comprehensible, accessible, timely and reliable information especially in the prevailing pandemic situation but the citizens’ right of access to information is in plight in Pakistan.

The event was organized by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), in collaboration with Pakistan Information Commission (PIC). CPDI Director Budget Study Centre Amer Ejaz said that right of access to information provides basis for transparency and a corruption-free society.

He stressed upon the need to ensure the implementation of RTI laws as RTI is considered as a gateway and a cornerstone of the basic human rights.

The right activist further highlighted issues faced by the concerned Commission due to delay in appointment of information commissioners, lack of administrative support from the government, delay in finalizing the working rules and subsequent shortage of staff.

While talking about the resistances of public bodies in disclosing information, Balochistan Finance Minister Zahoor Buledi said that “we have struggled hard to bring Balochistan at par with the rest of the provinces in the sphere of RTI.”

Buledi informed the participants that the Balochistan Assembly has approved a more robust and citizen’s friendly Balochistan Right of Access to Information Act 2021.

The incumbent provincial government believes in openness and transparency in governance, which is impossible without having a robust and progressive RTI law, he added.

The provincial minister further said the updated right to information law repealed the old Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 and replaced it with a more progressive and citizens friendly Balochistan Right of Access to Information Act 2021.

This law can play a greater role in paving the way for accountability and openness in governance and nullifying the culture of secrecy, which is a legacy in the country in general while in Balochistan in particular, the minister maintained.

Buledi further said that although there are loopholes in implementation but with the passage of time this issue will also be resolved. “We have to allocate budget for the information commission formation in the province, and appoint the staff accordingly for making it functional,” he emphasized.

CPDI Executive Director Mukhtar Ahmad Ali recommended corrective actions to the legislators to bring the federal RTI law at par with those prevailing in the provinces and also the neighboring countries like Afghanistan and India.

There are hurdles in the implementation of the current RTI Act which does not follow the values of good governance, said Mukhtar Ahmad Ali.
MMfD Director Programs Sadaf Khan while highlighting the issues faced by journalists during the Covid-19 situation for seeking information from the public bodies, said that during the current crisis, dissemination of reliable, authentic and accurate information is of utmost importance for the public of which journalists are the primary sources.

“If journalists have no access to information, then how ordinary citizens can have access to reliable and authentic information,” she questioned.

Sadaf Khan suggested joint efforts from all walks for better implementation of RTI laws, as CSOs alone cannot do it properly without the support of bureaucracy.

Citizens for Environment General Secretary Raza Gardezi said that although Sindh has enacted a very good Right to Information Law but there are still problems with its implementation.

Even after four years of enactment, the Sindh Information Commission is still inactive, so the CSOs went to court to make it active and functional but the condition on the ground remains the same, Gardezi said.

There are gaps in both the demand and supply sides as the citizens are unaware of the use of the right of access to information law, he mentioned.
PIC Information Commissioner Fawad Malik said that although the commission faced issues at the initial stage of the inception but now the situation is becoming better on ground.

Awareness session on RTI is the need of the hour coupled with change in behavior of the government officials to avoid secrecy and disclose the required information both proactively and reactively for better implementation, Malik added.
Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah said that implementation of the right to information law is challenging coupled with other issues the commission is faced with.

PIOs are continuously directed for providing information and they comply with the commission’s orders in accordance with the law, Abdullah added.

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