Access to information bill unanimously approved by Senate committee
ISLAMABAD: ‘The Right of Access to Information Bill, 2017’ was unanimously approved by the Senate Standing Committee on Information on Monday, within weeks of being presented in the upper house.
The bill grants citizens the right to have access to all information held by public bodies subject to ‘reasonable restrictions’.
The bill was introduced in Senate by Minister of State for Information Maryam Aurangzeb earlier this month.
Welcoming the unanimous approval of the bill, the chairman of the committee Senator Kamil Ali Agha said that after the bill becomes law, it will be binding on all departments of the federal government to respond to all requests seeking non-classified information within 10 days.
Senator Farhatullah Babar highlighted the importance of the right to information bill and the efforts made by the special Senate committee for it.
“The special committee passed the bill after considering the reservations given by all political parties,” Senator Babar told the committee.
The bill will now be presented in Senate for approval and after getting approval in the upper house, it will be forwarded to the National Assembly for consideration and approval.
The bill calls for any request for non-classified information to be accompanied by a certificate that the information is correct and will be dated and signed by a designated official.
It says that information is exempt if its disclosure is likely to result in the commission of an offence, harm the detection, prevention, investigation or inquiry of a particular case, reveal the identity of a confidential source of information or facilitate escape from legal custody.
Requests for information will not be entertained if it causes damage to the economy as a result of premature disclosure of a proposed introduction, abolition or variation of any tax, duty, interest rate, exchange rate or any other instrument of economic management or has the potential to cause damage to the lawful commercial activities of a public body.
The other restriction over the release of information is if its disclosure is likely to cause serious prejudice to the defence or security of Pakistan, the capability and effectiveness of armed forces or other law enforcement agencies or has the potential to endanger life, liberty, health or safety of any individual.
Discussing the importance of the ‘Journalists Welfare and Protection Bill, 2017,’ Senator Babar said 112 journalists have died while on duty in the last 10 years and only two of these cases have been reported and pursued and in which action has been taken against those responsible.
Senator Agha directed the information ministry to come up with a bill for journalists’ protection in 15 days or a standing committee will be constituted for the purpose.
Secretary Information Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera said the prime minister has written a letter regarding the draft to the Senate chairman, speaker National Assembly and standing committee and that the ministry has taken on board APNS, CPNE and PBA as well.
He said the ministry is in contact with journalists and that the draft also includes suggestions by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services.
Senator Babar suggested insurance, special protection measures and declaration of protection should also be included for journalists and their sources.