Quetta RTI Provincial Consultation

 

Freedom of Information Act 2005 Balochistan

DELTA, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), organized a consultation in Quetta, on the 17th of February 2014, on the Right to Information legislation promulgated in the province through the Freedom of Information Act 2005 Balochistan. This act is a toothless law that needs a total overhaul to bring it at par with the KPK and Punjab progressive laws on RTI. Pakistan ranks high among nations in terms of corruption as citizens remain unsure of their basic rights in terms of RTI and its potential implications with regards to promoting democracy, good governance, accountability and transparency in the public sphere.

Proceedings
Naazlee Sardar (President, DELTA) began the event with a short introduction of DELTA and she thanked the participants for attending and emphasized the importance of the Right to Information. She said that proper mechanisms for transparency should be made and information of Governments processes and working should be accessed in order to eliminate the corruption from our society.

Dr. Qaiser Bangali, (Advisor, CM Reform Unit) said in his address that every citizen should stand up for their right and should access the information from Government. He informed that problem lies within the policy making process of the govt. Citizens have the right to know about the factors on which policies are made. Furthermore he appreciated the work of DELTA and urged participants at the consultation to seek rapid implementation of the RTI law.

Dr. Riffat Sardar (Legal Expert, DELTA), made a presentation which provided analytical legal review of Freedom of information act 2005. She made a thorough analyses regarding strengths and weaknesses of the law, and issues with its implementation in its present form. She urged all to seek repeal or amendment of the present legislation as in its current form it was unable to provide any relief or information to the citizenry of Balochistan.

Mr. Abdullah Jan, (Secretary Information) urged citizens to start taking benefit from this law and put pressure on Government by accessing information. Furthermore he stated that that by putting Government under pressure we can counter corruption and implement this law in an effective manner.

Mr. Andria Masih, (MPA National Party) spoke on the occasion and expressed the need to have effective legislation on RTI and urged the citizens to utilise the law.  They said that the civil society can play a vital role in raising awareness on RTI and facilitating citizens to demand their right to information.

Mr. Noor Khan, (Director, Directorate of Public Relations, Government of Balochistan ) expressed the need to operationalize the law and urged the citizens to raise voice and demand their rights. He said that Dept of Information was not responsible for giving out information and that the name was misleading all. He said citizens do not understand the complexity of govt records and tend to request information which is not their concern.
Muhammad Raza Wakeel, (Information Secretary Hazara Democratic Party) spoke on weaknesses and challenges regarding RTI. He insisted the other political representatives to take this law very seriously as this is the only way to eradicate corruption from our society.

Mr. Obaid-ullah Babak, (Advisor to CM) stated that this RTI law is for the benefit of citizens. If citizens will not use this law for their rights then it is not going to serve them in any way. He also said that this law has very technical aspects and it is important for the citizens to understand it.
Other guests who participated in event included:

  1. Ms. Masooma Hayat, MPA PKMP
  2. Ms. Arifa Siddiq, MPA PKMP


The Chief Guest, Mr. Rahim Ziaratwal, (Minister Information) expressly stated that the DPR was wrong and that the Information department is liable to provide any sort of information to citizens requesting it. He said that two Information Secretaries were transferred and the third one can also be transferred if they fail to fulfil their responsibility. It is the duty of the department to do so but for that we must first aware people to stand out for their rights and come forward with their queries and problems. He lamented that bureaucracy was used to be taking commissions and percentages and was thus uncooperative to the newly elected government. However his govt was committed to addressing the current situation and improving the abysmal plight of the citizenry of Balochistan. He also said that media could play a very important role in implementation of this law. Furthermore, he stated the need to translate the law in local language because of the low literacy rate in province of Balochistan. He gave his commitment to work strongly against the corrupt people in Government and put every possible effort to amend and implement RTI law in this province.

The event was a success, as it inculcated awareness on the Right to Information legislation in Balochistan, and made the participants understand the strength of the citizens’ rights under RTI, in countering corruption in the Province, via increased transparency and accountability. It provided a good forum to participants to ask questions from the Minister, who was magnanimous with his time and patience in answering all queries.

Note: The Agenda for the Consultation is attached to this document as an Annexure.  

Annexure: Agenda                                          PROGRAM

 

02:30 pm

 

Recitation of holy Quran

02:35 pm

Welcome by Naazlee Sardar, President DELTA

02:40 pm

Inaugural Address by Qaiser Bangali, Advisor CM Reform Unit.

02:50 pm

Setting the Provincial Context: Review and Analysis of Freedom of Information Act Balochistan 2005 ……Dr. Riffat Sardar, RTI Legal Expert, DELTA

03:10 pm Government’s Efforts for Operationalizing the Law.................... Abdullah Jan, Secretary Information, Balochistan
03:25 pm

Right to Information of citizens by Andria Masih MPA National Party

03:40 pm

Question and Answer session

03:55 pm Citizens Accessing information under the law: Muhammad Raza Wakeel, Information Secretary Hazara Democratic Party
04:15pm

Why Right to Information: Noor Khan Muhammad Hussni, Director, Directorate of Public Relation (DPR) Government of  Balochistan 

04:30 pm Uses of Right to Information by Mr. Obaid-ullah Babak, Advisor to CM

05:00 pm

 

Recapping todays’ event and commitments secured and Recommendations : Naazlee Sardar, President DELTA

05:15 pm

Question and Answer session

05:30 pm

Address by Chief Guest Mr. Rahim Ziaratwal, Minister Information.

05:30 pm

Vote of Thanks by Adil Jehangir, President, AID Balochistan followed by tea

 

RTI Consultation Meeting pictures

Abdur Rahim Ziaratwal (Information Minister Balochistan

Dr. Qaisar Bangali (Minister Policy Reform Unit head)

Abdullah Jan (Information Secretary Balochistan)

Dr. Riffat Sardar (Consultant DELTA)

Andria Masih (MPA- National Party)

Panel Speaker

 

 

RTI Consultation Newspaper publications

February 17, 2014

 

 

Background Note:
Operationalizing Under Article 19-A
Freedom of Information Act, 2005: Balochistan

“Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.” ― Bruce Coville

International Scenario
Right to Information (RTI) gives citizens the right to access information that is held under the control of any public authority that benefits from taxpayers’ money. This allows citizens to access public records of government-held information. RTI has been recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and is increasingly being championed as a fundamental human right.

Access to Information is viewed as an instrument for transparency and accountability, integral to good governance and empowering people to meaningfully participate in decision making processes at various levels of government. In 1990, only 13 countries had adopted national laws pertaining to the Right to Information. In comparison, there are currently laws in over 90 nations. Interestingly, some of the highest ranking RTI laws are recently passed laws in developing nations such as India and Mexico.

Transparency International releasesThe Corruption Perceptions Index annually where nations are scored, based on the levels of corruption prevalent in their public offices. The table below compares the RTI Rating (Center for Law and Democracy) with the Transparency International (TI) rating for 2013. Pakistan, as can be seen, possesses a significantly weak RTI and ranks dismally low on the corruption index. Interestingly, many developing nations with strong RTI laws (India, Liberia, El Salvador, Mexico) remain with low scores on the corruption index.


Country: Top 5

RTI Rating

CorruptionRating

Country: Bottom 5

RTI Rating

CorruptionRating

Serbia

1

 

Austria

95

69

India

2

36

Liechtenstein

94

-

Slovania

3

57

Tajikistan

93

22

Liberia

4

38

Germany

92

78

Ethiopia

10

33

Dominican Republic

87

29

 

 

 

 

Pakistan

78

28

USA

43

73

Legend
RTI Rating: Between 1 (Best Score) and 95 (Worst Score)
Corruption Rating: Between 1 (Worst Score) and 100 (Best Score)

National Scenario
In Pakistan, while freedom of access to information was referred to in the 1973 constitution, it was not until the passage of the 18th amendment that the Right to Information was listed as a fundamental right in Article 19-A, which states that “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”


As part of a global ranking of RTI laws by the Centre for Law and Democracy which seeks to assess the strength of the legal framework for RTI laws, Pakistan was ranked 78th out of 95 countries. By comparison, India’s RTI Law was ranked 2nd and Bangladesh’s 17th. This showed the perceived weakness of Pakistan’s RTI laws. However, this ranking didn’t take into consideration the recent passage of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab laws, which are on par with international RTI laws. Right to Information laws in Balochistan and Sindh (passed in 2005 and 2006 respectively) however, remain ambiguous and detrimental to promoting democracy and good governance and require major amendments and extensive revisions.

Despite the PML-N promulgating a fairly strong law, the party’s federal government isn’t prioritizing its implementation. As reported by Umar Cheemafrom The News, “the National Assembly refused to provide information regarding  the attendance of lawmakers who are seen more on talk shows than in the parliament (as the) Ombudsman declared that attendance is a ‘private record’

Balochistan Scenario
In Balochistan, the Freedom of Information Act was enforced in 2005, modeled after the Freedom of Information Ordinance (2002) promulgated by Ex-President Pervez Musharraf during his rule. However, the Act is very weak, containing a large number of exemptions. Furthermore, the Act does not contain a public interest override, which uses a “harm test” to determine whether classified information would truly cause harm, and if not, would allow for that information to be released to individuals. The Ombudsman of Balochistan does not have a website, making the process of lodging a complaint hard.
While the preamble of the Freedom of Information Act 2005seeks to “provide for transparency and freedom of information to ensure that the citizens of Balochistan have improved access to public records and to make the Government more accountable to its citizens..”, the reality is that the citizens know less than ever, considering the extent of exemptions within the Act. In the year 2012, CPDI lodged 13 complaints with the provincial Ombudsman for Balochistan, out of which only 1 was acknowledged.
The Government of Balochistan must take measures to make major amendments necessary to ensure a robust Right to Information Law, in a manner similar to the law being promulgated by the PTI government in Khyber Pakthunkhwa. The people must have the awareness and the will to exercise their right to information.

DELTA
Development, Environment, Legal Aid, Technical Support & Advocacy Association (DELTA), is an NGO that aims to improve engagement between citizens and government in order to promote good governance in Pakistan. DELTA has been working since 1995 on human rights and humanitarian assistance programs in development and relief sectors.

UNDP
In order to map progress and facilitate informed discussion for operationalization of legislation on the Right to Information, DELTA is organizing consultations in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in all four provinces. The Provincial-level consultation in Balochistan will be conducted at theSerena Hotelin Quetta and will feature RTI experts, Government Officials, Political Party representatives, civil society stakeholders, media personnel, lawyers, representatives from leading academic institutions, activists and intellectuals to provide a forum for informed discussion on the provincial RTI Law in Balochistan.
The main objectives of this consultation are:

  • To understand the current legislation on the Freedom of Information Act, 2005 in Balochistan.
  • To examine the status of Implementation of the RTI Law in Balochistan, by providing status updates and endeavors undertaken by the government.
  • To provide a forum forintelligentsia of Balochistan to demand amendments to this Act.
  • Todevelop recommendations to address and overcome challenges in the implementation of the RTI.