Year 2015 passes without passage of RTI law
ISLAMABAD: The year 2015 has passed amid promises of enacting the Right to Information law at the federal level with the PML-N government dilly-dallying on it since 2014 by flirting with different ideas to improve the draft bill.
The RTI bill drafted in 2014 for replacing a weak legislation, Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, has passed through many eyes but stopped short of landing into Parliament that could pass it into law.
It was also sent to the international RTI experts for review who declared it the best legislation in the world if adopted. Hence this draft law is an “if” away from bringing Pakistan atop the ranking list as its passage faces awkward delays.
The FOI Ordinance 2002, currently in practice, received 78th position in international ranking of 2013. One of the movers and shakers of central government, who is directly responsible in this regard, said Tuesday the bill will be tabled in the National Assembly within a couple of weeks, a commitment greeted with scepticism as he failed to keep his words in the past.
Inordinate delay has also fuelled frustration among members of the Senate Standing Committee on Information.
Its Chairman Kamil Ali Agha shared with The News his plan of moving a privilege motion in the Upper House of Parliament for the government has ridiculed the committee by making false commitments time and again.
On February 17, a top high official assured the committee that the bill will be taken up by federal cabinet in the next meeting. It was held on February 23 without RTI on agenda.
Another assurance to the committee was extended by secretary information on July 2 echoing the same line that the bill will be routed through the cabinet in the next meeting. The official pledged the same while talking to The News a day before the “next meeting” was held on August 24. It again passed without taking up RTI bill.
Change in the government stand that the bill will be tabled before the National Assembly in the “next session” without seeking cabinet’s approval is the only development that has so far taken place.
Another official pledged on November 18 about tabling the bill in the lower house during the “next session” that was also prorogued without witnessing any development.
The first top official, when approached Tuesday about the latest commitment regarding the bill, said that the bill instead of passing through the cabinet will directly be tabled in the assembly as government bill.
Asked about the time-frame, he said “very soon.” Upon further insistence, he promised to do so within a couple of weeks.
As The News spoke to Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Information Kamil Ali Agha, he said the responsible government official had committed during the committee meeting last month that the draft bill required slight amendment that will be done using the forum of the committee.
Since Farhatullah Babar-led sub-committee had authored the draft, Agha said, the government official promised to consult him about the likely changes but has not done so far.
Agha said he along with other committee members were planning to move a privilege motion as the committee had been repeatedly ridiculed through false promises about the adoption of the bill.
If the experience of the Punjab government is any guide, the PML-N government at the Centre will take 3-4 years before it tables the draft bill in the National Assembly.
Punjab government is known for quick decision-making but it took three years to introduce RTI law in the province.
The first draft was prepared in 2010, approved from the provincial cabinet shortly before 2013 elections. The mover and shaker in Punjab had promised making it the first law to be passed from Punjab Assembly if voted to power again.
As he returned to power seven laws were passed before his government decided to try RTI legislation. Again, it had figured on the priority list only when the PTI government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa promulgated RTI law, first through an ordinance and then getting it approved from the provincial assembly.
Taking its cue from the KP and Punjab, the federal government also decided to introduce a robust RTI legislation and repeal Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 that is too weak to force bureaucracy into revealing the information requested by citizens.
A law eventually drafted in April 2014 was ready for approval by the federal cabinet before tabling it in the National Assembly but was pulled out of the cabinet’s agenda and has since been swept under the carpet.
This draft law (shared with The News) was undoubtedly the best legislation on RTI if measured by global standards but its significance is not more than a piece of paper if it is not passed by Parliament.