Sherry Rehman’s bill: Public may eventually access organisations’ official records

The bill will replace the ‘flawed’ 2002 ordinance, making record disclosure legally binding.

Maha Mussadaq October 17, 2011
Sherry Rehman’s bill: Public may eventually access organisations’ official records

ISLAMABAD: The new Right to Information (RTI) bill introduced in the National Assembly will make it legally binding for public and private sector organisations to disclose their official records to the general public — unlike its predecessor bill which is serving as a “vehicle for denying information instead of making it accessible”, according to Sherry Rehman.

Moved by former information minister Rehman, the new bill envisages ‘declassification’ of public records on important matters that are kept secret from the masses under the pretence of ‘national security’ — a phrase conveniently used to declare anything classified to exempt it from being publically accessible.

“The bill will repeal the flawed 2002 ordinance on the subject that was dubbed the ‘disinformation law’ by all media bodies. Unless it is passed, the 2002 ordinance will continue to serve as a vehicle for denying information instead of making it accessible,” Rehman told The Express Tribune.

Rehman said that every citizen had the right to access information even if it was buried years ago. The bill will ensure declassification of public records after a certain period of time.

Section 7 of the proposed bill reads: “Declaration of Public record: 1) subject to the provisions of section 8, all record of public bodies mentioned in this Act is hereby declared to be the public record. 2) De-classification: Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, all documents will become public record after 20 years of their initiation.”

She said that the proposed legislation would protect information from being destroyed by corrupt officials seeking to hide records — hiding records will be deemed as an offence punishable by imprisonment and fines under this new bill.

Rehman explained that although Pakistan was the pioneer in the region in moving such a law, it could not propose a bill that was acceptable to all stakeholders. An ordinance on the subject already exists but it was designed in a way that it blocked information instead of sharing. “Right to information is a universal human right,” she added.

Rehman was of the view that information pertaining to all departments, whether public or private, should be made available on their official website.

Rehman’s bill has laid down the principle for accessing classified information and Section 3 states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, and subject to this Act, no requester shall be denied access to any public record other than exemptions mentioned in this Act.”

“This Act shall be interpreted so as to (i) promote the right to information as a constitutional right; (ii) facilitate and encourage, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost, the disclosure of information; and (iii) All public bodies falling within the ambit of this Act shall publish, in simple terms, a yearly report on documents and activities of relevance to the public including information on organisational structure, norm and functioning, budget and finance, content of decisions and activities affecting the public and efforts to include public consultation in decision making.”

Responding to a question, Rehman said that the bill was entrusted to a standing committee of the National Assembly but she was not aware which committee of the lower house would discuss it.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2011.


Son Of Soil | 12 years ago | Reply Well done, Ms Rahman should work on this kinda bills that will strengthen the voice of people in general and stay away from issues like Blasphemy and etc, because we cant afford to lose her, one of few sane voices left in pakistan.Good job, Sherry.
zehra | 12 years ago | Reply

hope it actually gets passed without being robbed of its essence and gets implemented

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