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Right to information

Published Oct 10, 2016 01:58am

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FROM a distance, it all looks as it should. In 2002, Pakistan became the first country in South Asia to promulgate a freedom of information ordinance. Over subsequent years, all the provinces passed legislation aiming for the same thing, and citizens’ ability to access information from public bodies was recognised as a fundamental right through the insertion of Article 19A in the Constitution by the 18th Amendment. But like much else in this country, a closer look betrays chaos lurking under the surface. As pointed out by experts and activists during a discussion organised by the Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad late last month, the matter is caught between “the political enthusiasm to enact laws and the political will to implement them”. This is evident not only in the patchy quality of the various sets of laws, but also from the accounts of a number of citizens who have tried to access information from the government, but found themselves being completely stonewalled. The 2002 law was criticised on several counts, including being ineffectual and having a needlessly long list of exemptions. Even so, Sindh and Balochistan went on to replicate their federal counterparts in 2005 and 2006 respectively. KP and Punjab have done better, with the former putting in place the internationally accepted Right to Information Act, 2013, and the latter promulgating the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013. At the federal level, although the draft of an improved version of the right to information law has been circulating for years, and was even made public last year, it has not yet gone through.

What makes the situation even more dismal, though, is that even in Punjab and KP where the relevant laws are of an acceptable standard, they do not necessarily result in the disclosure of the requested information. The bureaucracies cling to secrecy on all counts, withholding information even from those whom they represent. Politicians, on their part, are quick to see the political capital to be made in preparing legislation, but prefer a fog to descend thereafter. All quarters need reminding that without effective right to information laws, Pakistan can claim to have neither press freedom nor freedom of expression generally; from this one point flow the channels leading to good governance. The denial of information is merely the other side of the censorship coin.

Published in Dawn October 10th, 2016

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Comments (5) Closed



ziarat khan Oct 10, 2016 07:58am

spot on. Most of the time any information sharing request is taken as insult in person by the officers . Sir you are requested to point out this point through your newspaper.

Feroz Oct 10, 2016 11:07am

You can have thousands of Laws on the statutes but mean little if there is no implementation and enforcement.

Aftab Oct 10, 2016 08:26pm

The difficult part is implementation the law and in spirit and quintessence . But 'some' in our country don not care even about the constitution, compelling them to abide by the RTI act is an insult to them.

SYED A. MATEEN Oct 10, 2016 08:47pm

Right to information is a right to know of every citizen of Pakistan.

If we want to have good governance then government officers should not hold back information required by the citizens which is guaranted in Article 19-A of Constitution of Pakistan as per the 18th Amendment.

Harry Oct 10, 2016 11:05pm

RTI is implemented well in India and most information is freely shared.