Quetta: A collective demand for the implementation of the Balochistan Right to Information Act 2021 and the establishment of the Balochistan Information Commission was raised during a seminar organized by the Center for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI). The seminar brought together members of Information Commissions, civil society organizations (CSOs), media representatives, academics, and government officials to discuss the significance of RTI and its role in fostering transparency and accountability in governance.
Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director of CPDI, highlighted the urgent need for the establishment of the Balochistan Information Commission, emphasizing that the absence of the commission hinders the effective implementation of the RTI Act. He noted that despite the act’s mandate to establish the commission within 120 days, three years have passed without any progress.
Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui, Chief Information Commissioner of Pakistan Information Commission, stressed the paramount importance of the RTI Act as a tool for promoting transparency and accountability. He acknowledged the enactment of the Balochistan RTI Act 2021 but underscored that its effectiveness hinges on the prompt formation of the Balochistan Information Commission.
Dr. Jawaid Ali, Chief Information Commissioner of Sindh, shared the challenges faced in RTI implementation in his province and emphasized the need for heightened awareness to eliminate secrecy in both Sindh and Balochistan. Ms. Farah Hamid, Chief Information Commissioner of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa RTI Commission, addressed administrative hurdles and the secretive culture within government departments, while also emphasizing KP’s pioneering role in enacting the RTI law.
Mr. Imran Khan, Secretary of the Information Department, attributed the delay in appointing the Balochistan Information Commission to personnel transfers. Despite this, he assured the gathering that the Balochistan RTI Act’s rules have been notified, and he anticipates the commission’s appointment within a month. He also encouraged citizens to file more RTI requests to enhance awareness about the act and its provisions.
Babar Yousafzai, former spokesperson for the Chief Minister, attributed the delay in establishing the Balochistan Information Commission to political will and security dynamics. However, with recommendations in hand, progress is anticipated following the summary’s presentation to the Chief Minister’s office.
Ms. Raheela Durrani, the first female Deputy Secretary and former MPA, emphasized the swift establishment of the commission in the province. Advocating for public awareness, she urged the translation of the RTI Act into Urdu for dissemination among government departments and citizens. Commending CPDI’s efforts in facilitating commissioner interaction, she highlighted the importance of benchmarking Balochistan’s practices against other regions for improved governance.
Mr. Shehzada Zulifqar, a senior journalist and RTI activist, lamented the media’s insufficient role in Balochistan’s RTI implementation, crediting civil society for repealing the Balochistan Freedom of Information 2005. Sarwar Javed, former DC and Secretary of Information Balochistan, concurred with these concerns, acknowledging the shift away from secrecy. He further emphasized the need to amend the Balochistan RTI Act due to its limited scope and lengthy list of exceptions, while acknowledging its improvement over the previous legislation.
Mr. Adil, Director of Aid Balochistan, underscored the urgency of establishing the Balochistan Information Commission, fueled by citizen support and public demand. Fouzia Shaheen, PCSW Chairperson, stressed the significance of the commission, citing personal challenges in information access. Highlighting gender disparities, she announced ongoing PCSW advocacy for the commission’s swift establishment. Prominent RTI activist Ms. Fatima Ningyal proposed gender-inclusive representation, suggesting at least one-woman member in the Balochistan Information Commission, fostering diversity and equitable decision-making.
The seminar concluded with a renewed commitment from all stakeholders to work towards the implementation of the Balochistan RTI Act 2021 and the establishment of the Balochistan Information Commission. These actions are essential for promoting transparency, accountability, and good governance in the province.