The Right to Information in Sindh Province
The road to the Right to Information (RTI) in Pakistan is long, but the winds of change from progressive RTI laws in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have now also reached this country. Slowly but steadily, Pakistan is moving towards a more transparent and democratic system which aims at ensuring that public money does not fall prey to misuse and corruption.
In September 2016, the Sindh cabinet approved the draft of the “Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Bill 2016” (Sindh RTI 16) which is currently under consideration at a select committee for further consideration. In this context, the Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom-Pakistan (FNF) organized a seminar titled “Sindh Right to Information legal Regime: Issues, Challenges and the Way forward” in Karachi. Elected representatives, Information Commissioners from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, RTI experts, civil society representatives and journalists joined the timely event.
Azmat Haneef Orakzai, the Chief Information Commissioner of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province explained how the RTI Act of 2013 (KP-RTI-13 Act) promotes public accountability in his province and how citizens and journalists are using their new rights to expose corruption.
Mazhar Hussain Minhas, the Chief Information Commissioner of the Punjab Information Commission (PIC) bemoaned a lack of staff to get the job done. Despite the shortcomings, PIC has given landmark judgments which have contributed to a culture of openness and transparency in Punjab, the senior official said. The Commisssioner highlighted the importance of overcoming “the culture of secrecy” which still prevails in large parts of the public service. For this, he went on, targeted trainings of Public Information Officers (PIOs) is essential.
Pakistan is witnessing a paradigm shift in perception towards the Right to Information, said Amer Ejaz, Executive Director of our partner CPDI. Earlier, laws had been enacted to curb access to information, now laws are enacted to provide citizens access to information held by authorities, said our partner.
Digitization opens new opportunities in the efforts for more accountability. The information commissions should develop standards for computerization, indexation and recording of important documents making them accessible to the interested public, Amer Ejaz suggested.
“But drafting the law and implementing it remains a huge challenge” said Saad Rasheed, the Executive Director of Transparency International (TI). Recent research shows that citizens in Pakistan are still unable to access information held by public bodies. Therefore, it is critical for the Sindh government to enact the RTI law on the provincial level without any further delay, the expert said.