KARACHI: A one-day workshop, titled 'Improving public service delivery through Right to Information (RTI)', was organised on Wednesday by Shehri - Citizens for a Better Environment in collaboration with Friedrich Naumann Foundation Pakistan.
The participants were all female and were employees of Education and Health departments of South, East, Central, Malir and Korangi District Municipal Corporations (DMC), the mayor's office as well as librarians from Malir and Korangi DMCs, besides lady councilors of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Zarqa Naz and Shahnaz Malik.
Shehri at its last RTI workshop held in March was informed that in the 209 union committees of six districts of Karachi, there is not a single female UC Secretary. Bearing this in mind, this workshop was organised to inform and educate women about the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2016, Article 19-A and history of RTI.
The speakers expressed concern over delays in the complete implementation of the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016, and said that it was necessary to ensure access to information for accountability of the government.
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They said that RTI supplements the core value of a democracy by ensuring the fundamental rights of citizens as well as other rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan.
In case of a deliberate obstruction of the RTI law, a fine which may extend up to 10 percent of the basic pay may be imposed on the accused official by the Information Commission under Article 15 (1). It may also lead to three months imprisonment.
"When there is no news, people make up false news which causes unrest in society, therefore it is incumbent upon the government to ensure proactive disclosure of information to prevent any misinformation from spreading among masses," said Sindh Information Commissioner Sikandar Ali Hullio.
Hullio further stressed that citizens have the responsibility to exercise their right of access to information and show their concern over matters of governance.
Need for the law
Amber Alibhai, the general secretary of Shehri-CBE, informed the participants about the necessity of proactive disclosure of information under Article 6(1) of Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016, adding that the right to access information was a fundamental universal right, necessary for economic empowerment and the fulfillment of other human rights.
"Women are often uninformed about their constitutional rights which inhibit them from exercising their power to address issues faced by them in daily lives," she said. "Right to Information empowers every citizen to question the government regarding issues through a legal process which is also cost free," she added.
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She stressed that women, who make up approximately half of the population of Pakistan, should be more involved with the local government to keep them on their toes.
Shehri's Sameer Hamid Dodhy further elaborated the key points in his presentation on the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016.
According to Dodhy, one of the best features of this Act is the provision for "proactive disclosure", which calls upon departments to disclose information on their websites and through other mediums.
"Shehri has developed an android application, which outlines all the key elements of filing a RTI request, the law itself, list of government departments, and the history of the law. It is available for use by the general public," he said. The application is named 'RTI Sindh Shehri'.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2019.