19 September, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 23, 1435

LAHORE, June 30: The draft Freedom of Information Act Bill finalised in the last days of the Shahbaz Sharif’s previous government after around a four-year effort of local and foreign experts is once again being scrutinised by a committee, generating apprehensions about compromising the law’s theme of allowing people to freely know what the government does.

Insiders told Dawn on Sunday that the committee was constituted on May 28 last, nine days before Mr Shahbaz Sharif was once elected as the chief minister. It comprises ombudsman and former chief secretary Javaid Mehmood, Justice Amir Raza Khan (retired), a chartered accountant and a representative of an NGO.

Upon his election on June 6, the chief minister had told the Punjab Assembly that the law would soon be introduced to ensure transparency and eradicate corruption or misuse of powers.

The chief secretary too had during a meeting early this month expressed the same desire.

Insiders said handling of the subject secretly by a committee constituted through an order by the S&GAD indicated that the government desired to once again re-check what it wanted to be made public.

They found the constitution of the committee strange because of the fact that the draft law was finalised painstakingly and even approved by the previous cabinet of the same PML-N government.

It may be mentioned here that the respective provincial departments had presented a draft of the law to the cabinet after four-year massive consultation with quarters concerned.

But since this draft provided for concealing more information than revealing it, a new draft was prepared on the advice of foreign experts which the previous PML-N cabinet approved.

The caretaker government of Mr Najam Sethi also assessed the draft law and intended to have it enforced through an ordinance. The Punjab governor nevertheless returned the ordinance saying “let the new government make a decision on it.” Now, insiders claim, one member of the committee was declaring the draft law progressive and another regressive. The committee was also considering to authorise the provincial ombudsman act as the commission aimed at enforcing the law.


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