ISLAMABAD: Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) has declared the cabinet-approved RTI bill as structurally flawed and ineffective, terming the draft law as “so ineffective and structurally flawed that it can’t be improved”.
A network of 48 civil society organisations working for the protection and promotion of citizens’ right to information, CRTI has also urged the federal government to scrap this bill and adopt the one unanimously passed by the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting since it meets the standards of effective legislation on RTI.
Ironically, the federal government has modelled this bill on the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 which it is already trying to repeal due to its ineffectiveness. Instead of allowing public access to information, CRTI noted, the new bill has strengthened the government’s hand to consolidate its hold on information under the garb of ‘public interest.’
This bill will offer an opportunity to the government to classify any information it desires to keep away from public scrutiny which has further been ensured through the constitution of a toothless appellant body, Pakistan Information Commission (PIC). The PIC has not been vested with enough powers in the new bill that it requires for forcing the federal agencies into sharing information with public.
The government chose to disregard widely appreciated RTI bill approved by the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting and instead planned to enact a very ineffective law that will serve no purpose of promoting transparency, said CRTI in a statement. If enacted, Right of Access to Information Bill 2016 will fail to protect citizens’ right to information guaranteed under Article 19-A of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The bill under scrutiny is so ineffective and structurally flawed that it cannot be improved. Instead of having one clearly defined short list of exempted information and declaring the rest as public information, the Right of Access to Information Bill 2016 also has separate lists; records that can be shared, records that cannot be shared and records that can be shared but certain types of information, if contained in these records, will not be shared.
Commenting on the bill, Amer Ejaz, Executive Director Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), said that ultimate authority always rests with independent and autonomous information commissions to decide whether any information needs to be made available in public interest or should be exempted from disclosure.
He said it is unfathomable as to why the federal government is not empowering proposed Pakistan Information Commission to decide on disclosure of information in public interest.
Terming Right of Access to Information Bill 2016 weak and ineffective, Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA), said that if this bill is enacted into a law, citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right of access to information held by public bodies will remain a pipe dream.
Muhammad Aftab Alam, founding Director IRADA, said that the federal bureaucracy does not want to be held accountable by people and the media by allowing access to critical information. With this intention in mind, the government wants to enact a law on the lines of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002.
The CRTI urged the federal government to adopt Right to Information Bill 2016 unanimously approved by the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting instead of the ineffective Right of Access to Information Bill 2016, as it meets standards of effective legislation on right to information.