WHEN laws are created solely to present a façade of modernity instead of providing any benefit to ordinary citizens, we build, by design, a fake and spurious society with a glossy veneer and a hollow inside.

Pakistan’s Right to Information laws represent the finest example of this choreographed duplicity. The Federal RTI Act was enacted in 2017. Since then four federal government departments were sent requests for information. All four failed to respond.

As the government created a vacuum by failing to establish an Information Commission, the complaints were sent to the federal ombudsman. The ombudsman turned down all applications stating that the only forum for RTI complaints is the (non-existent) RTI Information Commission. So the federal government has successfully nullified its own RTI system.

The Sindh RTI Act appeared in April 2017, defining a 100-day period for establishing an information commission. Some 300 days later, a Sindh Information Commission is nowhere in sight.

Punjab has an Information Commission but no information commissioners. Not appointing information commissioners is the politest strategy to torpedo the entire RTI process.

Continuing with an outdated 2005 FOI Act, Balochistan shows no signs of reforming the law or responding to the RTI requests.

The state functionaries, taking full advantage of this fractured and dysfunctional system feel no real compulsion to respond to citizens’ request for information. The federal government and the provinces should take urgent steps to establish information commissions, appoint designated officers and ensure that the officials respond to RTI requests.

Naeem Sadiq

Karachi

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2018

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