Freedom of Information ordinance to lay basis of stable democracy: Jabbar -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Freedom of Information ordinance to lay basis of stable democracy: Jabbar

PESHAWAR- Federal Minister for Information and Media Development Javed Jabbar said the proposed freedom of information ordinance is a big leap forward towards provincial autonomy, laying sound and stable foundation for real democracy.

He said this while addressing a round table conference here at a local hotel called to discuss clause the draft freedom of information ordinance.

The round table organised by the Ministry of Information and Medial Development was largely attended by cross section of people including, writers, editors, senior Journalists, educationist, researchers, lawyers, representatives of NG0s, industrialists, and social workers.

The Federal Information Minister said the ordinance once promulgated would manpower an ordinary citizen to have access to information besides strengthening provincial autonomy and democratic norms and traditions.

Javed Jabbar responded to questions asked during the panel discussion and held a lively debate over the proposed ordinance. The government, he said has initiated the process of consultation with the people on issues of important nature, which proved that the concept of federation sans federating unit was impossible.

He agreed that freedom of information ordinance was drafted in 1997 by the caretaker government, but the previous elected government failed to implement it and made an important legal document ineffective.

Freedom of information act existed in Pakistan but nobody knew about its utility. It is very interesting rather an irony to note that nobody knew about National Archives Act under which classified documents could be declassified after 20 years while in other countries like Britain, it takes 30 years to declassify such documents.

The circulation of draft ordinance for public debate manifests the government’s commitment to freedom of information and transparency, he added. However, this ordinance received importance when Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf made it a part of his seven point agenda, he remarked.

He said that keeping valuable information secret from the public, has not only inflicted losses on the democracy but it has also enhanced corrupt practices. He said it is a matter of regret that people in Pakistan have always been kept away from information involving important decisions. The Information Minister declared that the ordinance will be a step forward towards making the system more transparent and ensuring peoples access to information.

Javed Jabbar said, for the first time in the history of the country, a military led government has not imposed any restriction on the freedom of press and adopted an independent, progressive and forward looking information policy.

Setting up of radio and TV channels in the private sector, is a step towards this end, he maintained.

Pluralistic reforms would be introduced in the electronic media for the provision of valuable and useful information to the general public.

He defended the policy of keeping certain documents secret, involving defence and security of the country and maintained that such laws were in vogue in almost every country of the world. He said, the provinces would also implement it in their own way, moreover, it would also be felt at district level.

He said, steps would be taken to ensure that no future government would undo the ordinance once it was promulgated. However, ultimate responsibility towards this end rests with the future elected government.

The participants of the round table underscored the need for removing all the impediments, hampering the promulgation of the proposed ordinance. They also called for reviewing the discretionary powers of the designated officers. Period for provision of information be reduced to two weeks instead of three weeks, they argued.

The Minister disclosed that the ordinance would be extended to FATA also and added that communication system would be improved considerably to bring in its net the far-flung areas through the expansion of computer net work. He assured the participants that their views on various clauses of the ordinance would be considered while finalising the draft for approval.

The round table was attended among others by Provincial Information Minister Syed lmtiaz Hussain Gilani, Principal Information Officer Ashfaq Gondal and Provincial Secretary Information Capt(R) Niaz Muhammad.

Source: The Nation
Date:9/23/2000