Action Seen on RTI Seen on Several Fronts in Pakistan

10 July 2013

The Cabinet of the Pakistan province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on July 9 approved a right to information bill, according to a report in The Nation.

In the meantime, a committee in Punjab province is considering an RTI bill that observers had thought was nearly final. At the national level, a Senate subcommittee held a session on an RTI bill.

The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) wrote in a recent editorial, “Things are looking up with regard to right to information legislation in the country, especially at the provincial level.”

Movement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

The spokesman of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, Shaukat Ali Yusufzai, said that initially the law would be issued first as an ordinance and then be brought before the parliament for approval.

The law would mandate proactive disclosure of government information on websites and allow requests. An Accountability Commission is being planned to enforce the law, he said.

Activity in Punjab

There also are reports of continuing progress toward an RTI law in Punjab, such as in this article in The Dawn, but the existence of a new committee to review the draft is “generating apprehensions about compromising the law’s theme of allowing people to freely know what the government does,” the newspaper reported.

“Insiders told Dawn on Sunday that the committee was constituted on May 28 last, nine days before Mr Shahbaz Sharif was once elected as the chief minister. It comprises ombudsman and former chief secretary Javaid Mehmood, Justice Amir Raza Khan (retired), a chartered accountant and a representative of an NGO.”

The report continued: “Insiders said handling of the subject secretly by a committee constituted through an order by the S&GAD indicated that the government desired to once again re-check what it wanted to be made public.”

The CPDI said the committee “agreed to all points but one.” It continued: “The Punjab Ombudsman and one other member wanted entrust the task of appellate body to Punjab Ombudsman whereas the rest wanted to set up independent and powerful autonomous commission. CPDI tried to convince the members on the need for Punjab Information Commission and as the committee had decided to not to decide issues through voting, everyone has given their comments in writing and matter of appellate body has been left for the Chief Minister to decide.”

A bill had been approved by the Cabinet in March before the recent election. (See previous report.)

Developments at National Level

In Islamabad, a subcommittee of the Senate Information and Broadcasting Committee discussed a national FOI law at a July 9 session, according to an article in Pakistan Today. The draft has been getting poor reviews from activist. (See previous report.)

“The meeting of the body was presided over by its convener Farhatullah Babar who was of the view that the draft should be finalised at the earliest in order to ensure transparency and accountability,” the report said.

He said the bill also should require nongovernmental organizations to provide information about their foreign aid and expenditures along with audit details in order to people know about them like they had information about any government organization, the article summarized.

Approval by the committee is expected next week.

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