Transparency and accountability are considered to be the hallmarks of good governance. Accessibility to information is possible if the information is available and seen. Accountability without information remains a mere desire and a myth.
Efficiency, effectiveness and rule of law, with an addition of responsiveness, consensus, equity and inclusiveness are some of the other attributes of good governance.
Yap Kioe Sheng, the chief of the Poverty Reduction Section UNESCAP, describes governance as the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not Implemented).
The aforementioned essentials and definitions are usually used to gauge the governance of a country or a state (province). Under this concept goals are set to be achieved within definite timelines. The right to information is as an important feature of good governance.
Considering the right to information as a powerful tool of good governance, the legislature by the insertion of Article 19(A) has made it a fundamental right of a citizen. The Constitution mentions that “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.”
The PTI takes credit for taking a lead to promulgate the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Act, 2013. No doubt the passage of the law got national and international acclamation as one of the most progressive laws for recognising the people’s right to know and accessing information.
The intent and purpose of the constitutional provision and laws made thereunder are to protect the rights of the people to know and access information.
The objectives of the law have been set out in the preamble of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act, 2013, mentioning therein that transparency of information is vital for the functioning of democracy. It also stresses that the law would be instrumental in improving governance, reducing corruption, and making the government and other organisations more accountable to the public. It also recognises the participatory rights of the citizens in order to meaningfully contribute to the development of the democratic process. The consideration is that the law itself would help encourage their involvement and contribution in public affairs.
The law now makes it obligatory for the departments of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to proactively make available all such information of their workings which may be of interest to the public on their websites. Under exemptions, there is some information which may not be disclosed. Although the process for seeking information is quite easy and public-friendly involving very little cost, still there are a few bottlenecks.
The right to information is now recognised as a human right which is also connected with the freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan. This is also considered as one the most effective instruments for the elimination of corruption, ensuring merit and justice. It also provides easy opportunity for researchers to gain access to much-needed information for research, thus paving the way for progress.
Although the passage of the K-P’s right to information law has been heralded as a progressive move, the mere passage of law is not enough unless it is followed and implemented in letter and in spirit. Like many other laws, the RTI also appears to suffer the same fate. The dillydallying methods of a lukewarm bureaucracy, living under the shadows of absolute secrecy, defeat the very objectives of the law. Gaining information from the bureaucracy is a herculean task. Their tendency of indifference and not giving two hoots to the seeker of information ultimately frustrates him/her to leave it as a bad job.
In this context, I would mention my own experiential knowledge. I submitted applications separately to the additional chief secretary Planning & Development and the secretary Finance on January 7, 2021, seeking information about the projects sent for approval to the federal government and their status, and release of funds under the NFC Award and the AGN Qazi formula during this financial year. To my utter disgust, I could not get any response. Feeling aggrieved, I also made a complaint to the chief commissioner Right to Information on March 9, 2021, which was sent to the concerned department. However, it appears to have been thrown in the dustbin or again tied to a red tape.
Based on the aforementioned illustration, one can safely assume that the K-P government is far away from the basic philosophy of governance, as it does not meet the essentials of good governance, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability and rule of law. Holding back information without due cause and excuse is not only a violation of a constitutional right but also reflective of bad governance.
The bureaucracy is considered to be the steward in implementing law and polices of the government. Upon its efficiency depends the good image of the government. But, a snobbish system with a colonial mindset, floating on the status quo, retards developments and progress. The real question is: who will rein in the bureaucracy?
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2021.