Ensuring transparency: Senate panel finalises draft Right to Information Act

Censures defence ministry for delay in comments, asks it to withdraw remarks.

Qamar Zaman June 14, 2013
Censures defence ministry for delay in comments, asks it to withdraw remarks. PHOTO: FILE


A parliamentary panel on Thursday finalised a draft law that would soon allow public access to government records and information.

The move is being made in the interest of transparency and good governance.

Following an eight-month hiatus, the Senate Sub-Committee on Information and Broadcasting on Thursday, proposed amendments to the draft Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013 and directed the defence ministry to withdraw its objections.

A three-member sub-committee of the Senate had been set up in September last year to finalise a freedom of information law, which had been drafted by the information ministry.

The committee chaired by Senator Farhatullah Babar and comprising Senator Zafar Ali Shah and Senator Muhammad Daud Khan Achakzai, in its meeting, proposed amendments to the draft law.

The committee also advised the information ministry to finalise the draft act by the first week of July so that it could be tabled before parliament after the ongoing budget session.

Earlier, the defence ministry had raised objections to the proposed law and asked the Senate sub-committee to “keep the subject Act pending till a no objection certificate (NOC) was received by defence authorities.”

Taking exception to the remarks, Babar strongly criticised the objections put forth by the defence ministry and highlighted that eight months had passed since the ministry had been asked to give its views on the proposed law but it had failed to give its comments. He added that despite their failure to provide their views on time, the ministry had the audacity to ask parliament to keep its work pending.

Asking the ministry to withdraw its remarks, Babar said that no executive organ had been so contemptuous towards a committee of the house before. Talking to reporters after the meeting, the committee chairman said that the freedom of information law had been in limbo since 2002. He said that General Pervez Musharraf, acting under pressure from foreign donors seeking freedom of information law for transparency, had in fact provided a draft law that was conversely designed to obstruct access to information.

He added that in light of these difficulties, a new law was drafted in 2008 by the information ministry in consultation with all stakeholders including media organisations, provincial governments and members of civil society. Despite the hard work, Babar revealed that the draft law could not be tabled in parliament for one reason or the other. He added that after the 18th Amendment, the right to information had been made a constitutional right under the new Article 19-A.

Article 19-A reads, “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.”

After referring to the constitutional provisions, Babar said that this necessitated revisiting the proposed law yet again to bring it in conformity with the letter and spirit of the new constitutional provision.

Until recently, he said, Senator Pervez Rashid as member of the Senate Information Committee had been vociferous in supporting the right to information law. He expressed the hope that as federal minister for information, Rashid would now play an active role in bringing to a close an issue that has been lingering for over a decade.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2013.

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Syed A. Mateen | 7 years ago | Reply

I have attented numerous workshops and meetings on "Right to Information Act" but I feel that until and unless the government officials right from Grade 1 to Grade 22 are not told by the Prime Minister that all of them are Public Servants and they are answerable to Tax Payers and to Citizens of Pakistan, the Right to Information Act even enforced will have no value fir the Tax Payers and Citizens of Pakistan.

The Government Servants think that the Tax Payers and Citizens of Pakistan are their personal servants and whenever Goverment Servants will call the Tax Payers and Citizens of Pakistan they will go and wait to meet them for hours, outside their offices.

This sort of attitude of Government Servants is not acceptable at all and needs to be changed forthwith.

I am of the opinion that Federal and Provincial Governments should send it servants to various government training institutes, where they should be taught that when they have become Government Servants, it means thst they have become Public Sevants.

The salaries paid to the Government Servants are paid by the Tax Payers and not by any one else.

So let it be very clear whether it is Police, or any other law enforcing agency or any Civilian Goverment Servant that Government Servants whether Federal or Provincial right from Grade 1 to Grade 22 are Public Servants and they are not only answerable to their bosses, but they are equally answerable to the Tax Payers as well as Citizens of Pakistan.

The day Government Servants will change their attitude, delaying tactics through bureaucratic means, the Right to Information Act can be successfully launched in all over Pakistan.

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