Karachi RTI Provincial Consultation

 

Karachi RTI Provincial Consultation
Citizens have the right to know: Implement the Freedom of Information Act 2006, Sindh.

The reduction of corruption and promotion of good governance is only possible through the implementation of the Right to Information legislation, which will empower citizens and ensure their participation in public affairs. This was alleged by civil society activists and RTI experts on 20th February, 2014, at a Consultation organized by Development, Environment, Legal Aid, Technical Support and Advocacy Association (DELTA) with the collaboration of the United Nations Development Programme at the Marriott Hotel.

Right to Information laws (also known as Freedom of Information / Sunshine Laws) are recognized as a fundamental right of citizens in 95 countries, allowing citizens to hold their elected authorities accountable. The Sindh government in 2006 promulgated the the Freedom of Information Act 2006. Under this Act, the provincial government is legally obliged to furnish requests for information and fine public bodies for non-compliance. However the way the legislation is worded it has rendered it as a toothless law, in dire need of repeal or amendment, to bring it at par with the progressive RTI laws made for Punjab and KPK.

The consultation was marked with the presence of participants from the media, academia, civil society, legal fraternity, including 6 lower court judges, Govt representatives including police and information department staff, among others. 

The consultation proceedings started with the recitation of the holy Quran. Naazlee Sardar, President DELTA NGO, presented the welcome address and urged participants to empower themselves and demand their right to information. She asked the Government representatives to amend the law in favor of citizens that they should be able to take benefit from this law properly. Furthermore, she said that with the help of this law we are now able to access information from Government functionaries. She informed that DELTA held consultations in all four provinces of Pakistan to demand effective RTI legislation and immediate operationalization of it.

Mr. Amjad Bhatti, representative from UNDP presented the inaugural address. He said that RTI is completely related to decision making of Government. Unfortunately all the decisions are made secretly by Government and the citizens have the right to know the background factors of these decisions. He said that citizens have a very strong relationship with state and the responsibilities of state towards citizens should be clear to Government officials. He expressed that state should adopt a proactive disclosure approach rather than a reactive disclosure approach.

Mr. Khurram Ahmed, MPA from PTI, gave his commitment to implement this law in an appropriate manner so that every citizen can take benefit from it and asked other political parties for the help in implementing this law and making it as strong as KPK law. He consented to an exchange program to study the model law of KPK, and to emulate that law for Sindh in future.

He informed that he had already initiated a resolution in the Sindh provincial assembly on amendment to RTI.

Mr. Khalid Ahmed, MPA, and representing MQM, said that advocacy measures were required on RTI, to seek progress of effective implementation of the law. He urged that all political parties should work as a team, in order to amend/ implement this law. He offered to lead a walk on RTI as an advocacy tool in Karachi.

Riffat Sardar, Consultant DELTA, presented the analytical review of this law and told how RTI law was made after 18th constitutional amendment. She explained the participants about the public bodies which fall under the purview of this act and the ones that stand exempted. She reminded participants that RTI is new in Pakistan, and requested them to raise hands if they knew about RTI before this consultation. She demonstrated through the small number of hands raised that RTI is a new subject to Pakistan and Sindh, and that the need was there for donors and civil society to advocate RTI, now that legislation is undertaken for it, and that globally and after 18th amendment it has become a fundamental right.

Mehnaz Zaidi, Director, Information Sindh said that as a nation we should be very positive because we are living in a democratic country. The lawmakers are here to make laws in the benefit of citizens but there is always a possibility of human error. As a Government officer she ensured that she will work for effective implementation of this law.

Mr. Abdul Hayee, columnist and advisor HRCP, spoke on weaknesses and challenges regarding RTI. He insisted the political representatives to take this aw very seriously as this the only way to eradicate corruption from our society.

Mr. Iqbal Ahmed, Save the Children Fund, and Advocate International Human Rights, explained the difference between freedom of expression and Right to Information. Furthermore he differentiated between absolute rights and limited rights in order to give a better understanding of this law to citizens.

Ahmed Chinoy, Chief, Citizen Police Liaison Committee, Information and Accountability, requested the chief guest to take special notice in order to implement this law in Sindh. He urged the citizens to start using this law in their benefit and said that there should be transparency in governments working and processes because they can run only with the taxes paid by citizens.

Mr. Ali Raza Shah, Karachi Bar Association expressed the main objective of the law is to make Government functionaries more accountable. On the other hand citizens will stay informed about the working and processes of Government.

Doctor Jabbar Khattak, Mass Communication Dept, said that making law is not that difficult but implementing that law is. We need to set rules for this law in order to implement it in an effective manner. Procedures of accessing information should be kept simple and protection should be provided to whistleblowers.

In the conclusion, Rana Asif Habib, President Initiator summarized the whole event.  Naazlee Sardar, DELTA presented very fruitful recommendations gathered from the four consultations. These included that this law should be translated into local languages for the better understanding of local people. Amendments should be made in the Sindh legislation so that it becomes an effective law unlike being a toothless law in its present shape. Highlight of Sindh recommendation was that the lawmakers, especially the Chief Guest, being from the Govt ruling party in Sindh, should initiate the resolution for amendment in the Freedom of Information Act 2006, Sindh.

The Chief Guest, Ms. Sharmeela Farooqui, Minister of Culture, Advisor to CM, former Minister of Information, stated that every citizen should be proud of being a Pakistani as we are living in a democratic country. She said hat public has the right to know and they should use this law in order to counter corruption. She secured her commitment by saying that she would help in every possible manner to implement this law and encouraged the work of DELTA. Furthermore, she stated that making law is not a big deal but making a good law which benefits citizens and implementing it properly is something we need. She gave many effective recommendations among which the most important was that a person should be appointed to take care of the law and this law should be presented in the assembly for amendment. She expressed that when you want to give information you have ways to do it. She promised to work on the resolution on amending the Freedom of Information Act 2006, Sindh, for the benefit of citizens.

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

                                                     Tentative PROGRAM

02:30 pm

Recitation of holy Quran

02:35 pm

Welcome by Naazlee Sardar, President DELTA

02:40 pm

Inaugural address by UNDP Mr. Amjad Bhatti

02:50 pm

Panal Discussion
Mr. Khurram Ahmed, MPA from PTI/
Mr. Khalid Ahmed, MPA, and representing MQM

03:10 pm Setting the Provincial Context: Review and Analysis of Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006……Dr. Riffat Sardar, RTI Legal Expert, DELTA
03:20 pm

Ms. Mehnaz Zaidi, Director Information (Press), Sindh
Right to Information of citizens

03:30 pm

Weaknesses and Challenges for Freedom of Information Act 2006 by Abdul Hayee, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

03:40 pm

Difference between Freedom of Expression and Right to Information by Mr. Iqbal Ahmed, Save the Children Fund.

03:50 pm

Case Study:Ahmed Chinoy, Chief, Citizen Police Liaison Committee
Information and Accountability under RTI

04:00 pm

Mr. Ali Raza Shah, Karachi Bar Association

04:30 pm

Question and Answer session

05:00 pm

Recapping: commitments secured: Rana Asif Habib, President Initiator

05:10 pm

Recommendations: Naazlee Sardar, President DELTA

05:35 pm

Address by Chief Guest Ms. Sharmila Farooqui Minister of Culture/ Former Minister of Information (PPP)

05:55 pm

Vote of Thanks by Initiator and DELTA and followed by tea

 

RTI Consultation Meeting pictures

Dr. Riffat Sardar (Consultant DELTA)

Naazlee Sardar (President DELTA)

Ahmad channai, SPLC chief

Ms. Sharmila Farooqui Minister of Culture/ Former Minister of Information (PPP)

Rana Asif Habib, President Initiator

 

(R)  Khalid Ahmed (MPA, MQM)

(M) Khurram Sher Zaman (MPA PTI)

Iqbal Detho Save the Children, Karachi

Mr. Abdul Hayee, Field Coordinator, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Dr. Tauseef Ahmed, Chairman dept of mass communication, Federal Urdu university  Karachi

Mr. Amjad Bhatti from UNDP

Advocate Syed Amir Haider Shah, Joint Secretary Karachi bar Association

Dr. Jabbar Khattak, Editor Awami Awaaz, CPNE

 

 

RTI Consultation Newspaper publications

February 2117, 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.