The Right to Information (RTI) Ordinance is the first major accomplishment of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led coalition government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The only such law in the country, the RTI paves the way for a more transparent and vibrant democracy where citizens have access to all government documents and can monitor the expenditure of their taxes. The ordinance calls for establishing a three-member information commission, which will be headed by a chief information commissioner. The commission will have powers similar to that of civil courts and will be able to levy fines and summon public officials. It will also be authorised to punish those who wrongfully conceal or damage public records.
Civil society organisations say the draft of the RTI should have been presented and discussed in the assembly before being made a law and argue that the definition of ‘information’ in the ordinance remains vague. However, regardless, the document has many important clauses. One of its intelligent inclusions is providing protection to whistleblowers — an issue of growing international debate. While the ANP was unable to pass an act in this regard during its tenure, the PTI-led government was swift to implement the legislation as an ordinance. At a time when the PTI has been subjected to much criticism, the RTI comes as a breather for the newly-elected government, especially a week before the by-elections, which will give a testament to the performance of the government in its short tenure. The K-P government’s initiative is likely to leave a deep footprint on the road to democracy. The ordinance sets an important precedent and will put pressure on other provincial governments to allow access to information and increase accountability. While government departments will have their fair share of challenges as they come under direct public scrutiny for the first time, in the long run, this will only help the province and the country emerge stronger.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2013.