Compromise Bill Developed in Pakistan, Wins Praise

14 August 2014

A compromise right to information bill for Pakistan has emerged from discussions among the political parties and is being praised by RTI campaigners.

The draft “Right to Information Act, 2014,” was described Aug. 8 by Waseem Abbasi in an article in The News. Abbasi quoted sources as saying the bill has the support of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and five other political parties and will soon be sent to the Cabinet for its endorsement before going to Parliament.

The compromise apparently has wide support from all the major political parties. A Senate committee had been drafting a bill to replace the existing ordinance. (See previous report.)

Abbasi reported that the current draft “is being hailed by the experts as one of the best laws in the world as it incorporates all the good features from the RTI laws of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Punjab, which are already enforced in these two provinces.”

“This is one of the best RTI laws in the world as it incorporates all the good features from the past laws,” Zahid Abdullah from the Center for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) was quoted as saying.

The scope of the new draft law as described is inclusive, covering the government, Parliament, the judiciary and nongovernmental organizations that get direct or indirect funding from the government.

The law would provide officials 10 working days in which to respond to requests.

Information that could harm Pakistan’s national security, law and order and international relations would be exempted from disclosure. Individual privacy and commercial interests of third parties also would get protections. Information may also be exempt if its disclosure would be likely to endanger the life, health or safety of any individual.

A “Pakistan Information Commission” would be created to facilitate the implementation of law. “The Information Commission shall also have the power to conduct inquiries, in relation to either an appeal or on its own initiative in relation to other matters connected with the proper implementation of this Act, and when conducting such an inquiry the Information Commission shall have the powers of a Civil Court,” says the draft.

The law also specifies punishments for the violators.

Anyone who acts willfully to obstruct the implementation of this Act by: (a) obstructing access to any information or record with a view to preventing the exercise of a right provided for in this Act; (b) obstructing the performance by a public body of a duty under this Act; (c) interfering with the work of the Information Commission; or (d) destroying a record without lawful authority; shall be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty-five thousand rupees.

The commission of serious and repeated wilful acts to obstruct the right to information under this Act shall be a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or with a fine of up to one hundred thousand rupees or with both.

The draft law includes a provision to protect the whistleblowers.

“No one may be subject to any legal, administrative or employment-related sanction, regardless of any breach of a legal or employment obligation, for releasing information on wrongdoing, or which would disclose a serious threat to health, safety or the environment, as long as they acted in good faith and in the reasonable belief that the information was substantially true and disclosed evidence of wrongdoing or a serious threat to health, safety or the environment.”

 After promulgation of the RTI Act 2014, the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002 (XCVI of 2002) would be repealed, and the new law would come into effect immediately, the report says.

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