ISLAMABAD: Though Pakistan has formulated one of the best Right to Information (RTI) laws, there are some reservations about whether something so close to perfection will be implemented, the executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada, Toby Mendel, said on Thursday.
At a talk on the right to information hosted by Pildat, Mr Mendel said the RTI law drafted by Pakistan had been awarded 148 points of 150, the highest in the world.
“But this seems scary, because nothing is so perfect,” he said, urging for the media and the general public to put pressure on the government to implement the law at the earliest.
Official from Canada expresses reservations over implementation of the law
“The law was formulated after pressures from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the government seems to have satisfied the ADB. However, the people of the country should pressure the government for access to declassified, non-strategic information,” he added.
The draft RTI law was finalised in February 2014 by the Senate standing committee on information but for two years now it has been lying in the cabinet.
He said Pakistanis did not seem too eager to make use of whatever RTI law existed in the country.
“Just a few hundred requests have been made in the recent past which is less than the number of federal government departments,” he added.
He said because of digital databases, providing information is not as difficult as it used to be some time back.
“Bureaucratic institutions in the country are strong, organised and well established but at the same time they are strong enough to protect their independence which they might lose due to the RTI law,” he added.
Regarding strategic and sensitive information, Mr Mendel said most of the sensitive information was already available to the concerned groups.
He said countries usually only hid information from their own citizens and not from their enemies.
He suggested Pakistan make the law and establish an office for an information commissioner. Doing so, he said, was considered part of human rights internationally.
An information commissioner in Canada can raid the offices of any department which is listed in the RTI category, including intelligence agencies as well, he added.
“If the officer finds that the requested information was present but was not provided, a court case can be filed against the relevant officer,” Mr Mendel said.
He said according to international practices, there were no sensitive departments, only sensitive information.
“The disclosure of any such information which can harm national security is sensitive but any information which will not compromise national security cannot be termed sensitive,” he explained.
President Pildat Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said many of the fears in the bureaucracy regarding the right to information was a reflection of the country’s colonial past.
“Disclosing some information will not pose any serious threats to the system, but we are yet to accept this fact,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2016