ISLAMABAD ( BMZ REPORT )
Instead of adopting the widely appreciated Right to Information Bill 2016 approved by Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting, Federal government plans to enact an ineffective and structurally flawed Right of Access to Information Bill 2016. If enacted, Right of Access to Information Bill 2016 will fail to protect citizens’ right to information guaranteed under Article 19-A of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This was stated in a press release issued by Coalition on Right to Information, (CRTI), a network of 48 civil society organizations working together to protect and promote citizens right to information held by public bodies. This bill is so ineffective and structurally flawed that it cannot be improved. It is unfortunate that federal government has modeled its right to information bill on Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 which the federal government is trying to repeal. Instead of having one clearly defined short list of exempted information and declaring the rest as public information, the Right of Access to Information Bill 2016 also has separate lists; records that can be shared, records that cannot be shared and records that can be shared but certain types of information, if contained in these records, will not be shared.
Furthermore, the bill makes allowance for protecting information from disclosure in public interest but does not make any allowance for disclosure of information in public interest. Through this bill, federal government will be able to classify any information whereas Pakistan Information Commission, to be established under this law, will be a toothless body as it will not have powers to instruct federal agencies to share information in public interest. Commenting on the federal right to information bill, Amer Ejaz, Executive Director, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, (CPDI) said that ultimate authority always rests with independent and autonomous information commissions to decide whether any information needs to be made available in public interest or should be exempted from disclosure. It is unfathomable as to why federal government is not empowering proposed Pakistan Information Commission to decide on disclosure of information in public interest. Terming Right of Access to Information Bill 2016 weak and ineffective, Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director, Centre for Governance and Public Accountability, (CGPA) said that if this bill is enacted into a law, citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right of access to information held by public bodies will remain a pipe dream. Muhammad Aftab Alam, founding Director, IRADA said that the federal bureaucracy does not want to be accountable to people and the media by allowing access to critical information and that is why it wants to enact a law on the lines of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002.
Coalition on Right to Information urges federal government to adopt Right to Information Bill 2016 unanimously approved by the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting instead of the ineffective Right of Access to Information Bill 2016, as it meets standards of effective legislation on right to information.