Contrary to popular perception, when it comes to protecting the rights of citizens, Pakistan has some exemplary laws. The 18th Amendment decrees that access to information held by government bodies is a right of every citizen. The provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) have gone further by introducing their own Right to Information (RTI) legislation and have been lauded for their comprehensive transparency laws. Unfortunately, it appears that this is where the good news ends. A report titled “The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies” has reviewed several websites of Punjab and K-P government departments and found them woefully slow in adopting RTI laws. Large gaps exist between what the law states must be made public and what government bodies are actually willing to disclose.
Broken links, lack of contact information and changed web addresses are just some of the problems highlighted in the report. Some websites only provide postal addresses and no online means of requesting information. It seems that the internet, despite its global power and outreach, remains something of a mystery to our government bodies. There is a general state of reluctance when it comes to adopting the web as a quick and easy means of sharing information. Its usefulness is misunderstood and underestimated. This is compounded by the fossilised mindset of keeping the public at arm’s length and making the provision of information an onerous task. The RTI laws in Punjab and K-P can be of little use if they are not followed up by widespread and effective implementation. Rather than making individuals dig through mounds of broken links and unhelpful web pages, there must be proactive implementation of these laws. The websites and information offices must be fully functional, easily accessible and actually able to provide the information required. Our government bodies need to start considering public welfare a priority as well as realise that the internet is increasingly becoming the primary source of information for the public.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2016.