Dialogue: Ensuring citizens’ right to information stressed

Speakers underscore empowering public to monitor organisations.


News Desk March 04, 2013
Mendel attributed the weak demand to underdeveloped RTI laws, lack of public awareness, and insufficient media coverage of the issue.

ISLAMABAD:


Speakers at a dialogue called for ensuring citizen’s fundamental right to information to promote a culture of accountability. For this, they asked media, civil society and policymakers to play their role in enforcing the constitutional right of the people.


The consensus opinion was presented by participants at a dialogue on “Right to Information: Applying Global Lessons to Pakistan”, organised by the Jinnah Institute here on Monday, said a press release issued by the institute.

Participants, including politicians, social scientists, researchers, civil society activists and journalists, agreed that if implemented correctly, Right To Information (RTI) laws can empower the public to monitor both public and private organisations.

Toby Mendel, an expert on Freedom of Information law, said that there have been very few instances of civil society demanding the right to information from the government in Pakistan. He attributed the weak demand to underdeveloped RTI laws, lack of public awareness, and insufficient media coverage of the issue. Mendel has worked extensively with NGOs and governments on this issue in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

Some of the participants said that the influential state broadcasting agencies such as PTV and Radio Pakistan should be privatised as a first step to establish freedom of information.

The participants also noted that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman had introduced an RTI bill in National Assembly in October 2011 which has still not become a law.

Under the draft bill, civil society members could request access to documents issued by public bodies. Furthermore, public bodies could not block a user’s request to information, ensuring transparency and accountability in various government departments. The bill is still with a Standing Committee of the National Assembly for further discussion.

Mukhtar Ahmed from the Citizens Voice Project highlighted a major problem concerning the supply side of RTI. Citing his own experience, he pointed out that government officials deny this right primarily because they feel insecure divulging information to the public for fear of being punished by their leadership.

Jinnah Institute Director Raza Rumi said that the route to realisation of the right to information was provincial legislation followed by the establishment of local government institutions.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2013.

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