effective implementation of law on right to information stressed

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Islamabad- The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), in collaboration with Pakistan Information Commission organized a one-day seminar on “Status of Access to Information”. The panelists of the conference included; Zahoor Ahmad Buledi, Finance Minister, Balochistan, Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), Raza Gardezi, General Secretary, Citizens for Environment, Ms. Sadaf Khan Director Programs, Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD), Ms. Tanzeela Mazhar, Journalist, Fawad Malik, Information Commissioner, Pakistan Information Commission, and Mr. Zahid Abdullah, Information Commissioner, Pakistan Information Commission. The event was attended by Public Information Officers of the federal ministries, journalists, CSOs’ personnel and lawyers’ fraternity.
Mr. Amer Ejaz, Director Budget Study Centre, CPDI, said on the occasion, that right of access to information provides basis for transparency and a corruption-free society. He further stressed upon the need to ensure the implementation of RTI laws as RTI is considered as a gateway and a cornerstone of basic human rights. It was reiterated that every citizen has the right to comprehensible, accessible, timely and reliable information especially in the prevailing pandemic situation but the citizens’ right of access to information is in plight in Pakistan. A study in the name of “Measuring the Right to Information implementation” which was recently completed by CPDI under the EU funded project, Civil Society for Independent Media and Expression (CIME), was also launched on the occasion. The study facts discloses that the culture of secrecy is still prevailing in almost all ministries as most of the information requests sent for the purpose went unheard. Moreover, he further shed light on current issues faced by PIC like non-allocation of funds, delay in appointment of information commissioners, lack of administrative support from government, delay in finalizing the working rules and subsequent shortage of staff. Also, the resistances in disclosing information of public bodies were discussed in details.
Zahoor Buledi, Finance Minister, Balochistan said that we have struggled hard to bring Balochistan at par with the rest of the provinces in the sphere of RTI as Balochistan assembly approved the second generation, more robust and citizens friendly, Balochistan Right of Access to Information Act 2021 on February 1, 2021. The incumbent government in the province believes in openness and transparency in governance which is impossible without having a robust and progressive RTI law, keeping in view the need of the hour, it repealed the old Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 and replaced it with a more progressive and citizens friendly Balochistan Right of Access to Information Act 2021, thus paving the way for accountability and openness in governance and nullifying the culture of secrecy which is a legacy in the country in general while in Balochistan in particular. He further said, that although there are loopholes in implementation but with the passage of time this issue will also be resolved. We have to allocate budget for the information commission formation in the province, and appoint the staff accordingly for making it functional.
Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director, CPDI, highlighted the lacunae in Right of Access to Information Act 2017, and recommended corrective actions to the legislators to bring the federal RTI law at par with those prevailing in the provinces of Pakistan and also the neighboring countries like Afghanistan and India. There are hurdles in the implementation of current RTI Act which does not follow the values of good governance.
Ms. Sadaf Khan, Director Programs, MMfD, highlighted the issues faced by journalists during the COVID-19 situation for seeking information from the public bodies. She further said that during the current crisis, dissemination of reliable, authentic and accurate information is of utmost importance for the public of which journalists are the primary sources. “If journalists have no access to information, then how ordinary citizen can have access to reliable and authentic information,” she added. She further said that joint efforts from all walks are needed for better implementation of RTI laws, as CSOs alone cannot do it properly without the support of bureaucracy.
Raza Gardezi, General Secretary, Citizens for Environment, said on the occasion that although Sindh has enacted a very good Right to Information Law but there are still problems with its implementation. Even after 4 years of enactment the Sindh Information Commission is still inactive, we the CSOs went to court to make it active and functional but the condition on the ground remain the same. There are gaps in both the demand and supply sides as the citizens are unaware of the use of right of access to information law.
Mr. Fawad Malik, Information Commissioner, Pakistan Information Commission, said on the occasion that, although the commission faced issues at the initial stage of the inception but now the situation is becoming better on the on ground. Awareness session on RTI is the need of the hour coupled with change in behavior of the government officials to avoid secrecy and disclose the required information both proactively and reactively for better implementation.
Zahid Abdullah, Federal Information Commissioner, Pakistan Information Commission, said that the commission hear cases 4 days in every week, he further said that implementation of the right to information law is challenging coupled with other issues the commission is faced with. PIOs are continuously directed for providing information and they comply with the commission’s orders in accordance with the law.
During the question-answer session, the participants were enlightened with regard to the upcoming steps and initiatives of the current government for ensuring right of access to information for the citizens. Also, the minister along with the CSOs and the Pakistan information pledged to continue their joint efforts for the promotion of transparent and accountable RTI regime in Pakistan with maximum public access to information.
About CPDI: Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) is an independent, non-partisan and a not-for-profit registered civil society organization working on the issues of Development and Peace in Pakistan.

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