Freedom of information: Activists seek changes to draft law

LAHORE, Jan 31: Participants in a conference on the right to information on Thursday regretted though tenure of the Punjab government was about to end, it could only prepare draft of the law that was supposed to bring transparency in the working of the government.

The conference was organised by the Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI), a forum comprising 17 civil society organisations struggling for enactment of the right to information law in consonance with the best international practices.

The conference was conducted by CRTI Coordinator Zahid Abdullah and Aftab Alam.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, who was the chief guest, though agreeing there should be a right to information law, said the people should have also the right to know what other institutions like the media were doing. People should know from where some media houses were getting money, he said.

He said the draft law on the freedom of information would soon be introduced in the assembly, inviting all stakeholders and civil society organisations to give their input on it after sending it to the standing committee concerned.

Earlier, the participants unanimously passed the CRTI Lahore Declaration, urging the Punjab government to enact the law on the right to information on a priority basis.

The declaration also put forward specific recommendations aimed at improving the draft bill prepared by the government. Its recommendations include calling the law as the ‘Right to Information Act’ instead of the existing ‘Freedom of Information Act’.

The preamble should refer to Article 19-A of the Constitution and say the right to access to information is a fundamental right of all citizens and that the purpose of the act is to facilitate implementation of this fundamental right, the declaration says.

It says the law could not be restricted to the people of Punjab as is suggested in the draft bill. It is a fundamental right of all citizens of Pakistan. Any restriction on any citizen would be in contravention of Article 19-A.

It suggests the commission for implementation of the law should consist of two former government servants and as many judges, besides one representative of the civil society with a distinguished record of at least 15 years of work on human rights or governance issues. This will ensure representation of diverse sectors and hence bring to the table diverse perspectives.

It demands deletion of the provision in the draft law that excludes notes on files and minutes of official meetings from the list of information supposed to be given to people on demand.

Any exclusion of documents and information relating to internal working of the government will negate people’s right to know and hence undermine their ability to oversee and make suggestions for increasing efficiency or improving performance of government departments, the declaration argues.—Staff Reporter


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