KARACHI: The citizens of Pakistan must have access to data of different state departments in order to ensure transparency and rid the country of corruption.
This was expressed by speakers at the workshop, Right to Information, organised by the NGO, Shehri, on Saturday. The workshop aimed to create awareness among the people about article 19-A of the Constitution which gives citizens the right to access information of all state matters and data. Additionally, it also attempted to educate people about the use of this law and build skills to bring about the change that they wished to see in the existing system.
Speakers at the workshop, aided by charts and video clips, taught the attendees about the rights granted by the article and how one could use them to question the state’s departments if wrongs were being committed. A training session was held to train people how to write an application seeking information from the government.
Shehri member, Dr Raza Ali Gardezi, during his speech at the workshop, said that like all developing countries, Pakistani citizens’ awareness regarding their basic rights was very limited. He lamented that government officials were so used to corrupt practices that they were not willing to accept the freedom of information (FOI) legislation.
Giving examples to prove his theory, Gardezi said that if people asked the relevant department about the budget and cost of street lights which may have been out of order from some time, the department would often fix them in order hide their corruption rather than divulge the information sought by the applicant.
Gardezi said that as per article 19A, citizens had a right to access the information in all matters of public importance. This right, albeit, could be subject to regulations and reasonable restrictions imposed by law, he added.
At the end of his speech, Gardezi conducted an interactive exercise with the participants to train them how to write an application seeking information from the government on a subject of their choice.
Another member of Shehri, Sameer Hamid Dodhy, gave a detailed presentation on the subject, explaining the applicability of the ordinance in terms of which type of state institutions could be asked to share data.
He elaborated on what type of information could be accessed and what type of information and record was exempt from disclosure.
Dodhy explained the process of invoking the FOI ordinance and the guideline for making an FOI application. He said that as per rules, the relevant government department was bound to provide the information within 21 days of the application.
Dodhy expressed his belief that the enforcement of article 19A was essential in bringing transparency in the governance system.
A large number of students, citizens, representative of civil society organisations, NGOs and media personnel attended the programme. People can contact the organisation [email protected]
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2013.
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