PESHAWAR, Aug 10: The NWFP government will enact a law to allow access to information in government departments, two provincial ministers said on Tuesday.
Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Haji Ayaz Khan and Local Government Minister Sardar Mohammad Idress assured participants of a workshop that information related to their departments was open to the citizens.
The workshop on freedom of information was organized by the Consumers' Rights Commission of Pakistan. The ministers said the government would enact a law after consultation on the pattern of the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002, for allowing the general public to get information from the provincial departments.
Other speakers said access to information was a fundamental right that was directly related to good governance and transparency. A former chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Afrasiab Khattak, said that the freedom of expression was useless without the freedom of information.
He said other rights could not be utilized without adequate information. He said freedom of information was more important to civil society organizations as compared to other segments of society.
Mr Khattak said people had concerns about the situation in Balochistan, specially Gwadar, and they had the right to know the future plans of the government in that regard.
Mr Khattak said the Gwadar project master plan was kept a secret until land was purchased by influential people and multi-national companies. He said development for people and not for multi-national companies was important.
The vice president of ANP, Haji Mohammad Adeel, said that here everything was declared classified and the citizens could not even get ordinary information from different departments. He added that in his opinion nothing was classified except personal life of an individual.
Mr Adeel regretted that even the cabinet ministers were often not aware of the federal and provincial budgets and these were presented before the respective assemblies. Pakistan People's Party (Sherpao) MPA Nasreen Khattak said that denial of freedom of information was violation of a fundamental right.
She said that the promulgation of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 by the federal government was a step forward, and now they should strive for enacting such laws at the provincial level as well.
She added that the media was not an isolated phenomenon as it was the voice of the people, and without access to information the media could not play its role properly. The resident director of Aurat Foundation, Rukhshanda Naz, said the citizens should be given the right to ask why the district government in Attock had been sponsoring the campaign of Shaukat Aziz.
She said that the government wanted to impose agency councils in the tribal areas, but the people were not given information in that regard. Different governments enacted laws to scuttle the freedom of information and press, said the president of the Peshawar Press Club, Mohammad Riaz.
He recalled that the Press and Publication Ordinance, 1963, was promulgated more than a dozen times. The proposed amendments to the Defamation Ordinance, he added, were also aimed at curtailing the freedom of information.
The secretary-general of the Peshawar Press Club, Iqbal Khattak, stated that journalists were not allowed to visit South Waziristan. He alleged that newsmen were harassed in different cases so as to conceal information.