‘Govt needs to stop delaying passage of RTI bill over security concerns’
Karachi: The government should not delay the passage of internationally acclaimed Right to Information (RTI) Bill 2014 merely on account of security concerns about sensitive information pertaining to defence and foraging relations, urged Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, who is the chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Defence.
He said this while chairing a panel on the state of RTI laws in Pakistan on Monday, at a regional conference on Right To Information organised by Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency in collaboration with the Punjab Information Commission and RTI Commission of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Speaking on protecting and disclosing sensitive information under the federal RTI ordinance, the Senator urged the Centre to not delay the proposed RTI bill.
He said though the bill had been approved by the Senate in July 2014, but was still waiting to be tabled in the National Assembly.
Besides delegates from Pakistan, participants of the conference also came from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal and shared the status of implementation of RTI regimes in their respective countries.
Discussing the state of Pakistani RTI law, it was said that the existing Federal Freedom of Information ordinance ranked 84th in the world.
A former secretary of the ministry of interior, Tasneem Noorani, remarked that the second level of resistance to RTI might be from government officials who may not have accepted wholeheartedly the concept of opening up the intricacies of their activities to the public.
Senior journalist Aamir Latif said an effective and comprehensive RTI law served to enhance national security rather than undermine it.
He said proactive and frequent disclosure by governments strengthened the writ of the state and ensured that the citizenry was fully invested in the government.
A member of the Sri Lankan parliament and president’s counsel, Dr Jaymapathy Wickramaratne, presented the draft of RTI bill of his country that ranked 7th in the world.
He said the draft of Sri Lankan RTI bill had been drafted in such a way that it could not be overridden in emergencies declared by the government.
It could only be overridden through an amendment in the law itself.
The chief of Pildat, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, while reviewing RTI laws in South Asia and other parts of the world, said the future of RTI laws in South Asia would be bright if relevant stakeholders convened to discuss shared issues and concerns on a regular basis.
Speaking on opening up the business of parliament to citizens through the RTI, Aruna Roy from New Delhi said while chairing the panel said the link between legislators and masses was the fulcrum of a working democracy.
“Opening up the activities of institutions such as the parliament will not only improve the performance of legislators, but is also a prerequisite to modern democracy,” she said.
The director-general of parliamentary affairs at the Punjab Assembly, Inayatullah Lak, apprised participants of the measures being taken by the Punjab Assembly Secretariat to proactively disclose activities of the provincial legislature, including attendance of legislators, rules notified and video reports of proceedings, via the official website.
Representing the Senate Secretariat, Rabeea Anwar, who is the joint secretary for legislation in the upper house, said a lot of information pertaining to the activities was already being disclosed on the official website.
The chief information commission of Nepal, Krishna Hari Baskota, spoke about the initiative being taken by the National Information Commission of Nepal, which included a system of RTI audits.
The former Chief Information Commissioner in India, Wajahat Habibullah, cited the example of extending the RTI law to Kashmir and how it had come about through the efforts of civil society in 2009.
He was of the view that extending the RTI law to Kashmir would strengthen the security of the state as citizen would be more likely to cooperate with the government.
Director information Sindh, Memon Roshan Tabassum, gave an overview of the progress made in the provincial RTI bill that had been vetted by the law department and now awaited public feedback ahead of it being tabled in the provincial assembly.
She also reiterated the commitment of Sindh government in eliminating corruption within public offices by ensuring transparency through the right to information.