Citizens urged to make use of information law
KARACHI: Every citizen should exercise their right to information with regards to public institutions and contribute towards implementing the Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance in order to bring about good governance in Pakistan.
This was the focus of the training workshop on “Freedom of Information Ordinance as a tool for ensuring good governance” conducted by the NGO, Shehri — CBE, at the Institute of Engineers Pakistan on Friday.
Speaking to a small group of participants in the workshop coming from various backgrounds, Naeem Sadiq, a volunteer with Shehri, explained the FOI ordinance introduced in 2002 and discussed its finer points, its status in the country, its key features, guidelines and finally a step-by-step process through which citizens could apply for information.
Mr Sadiq said that according to Article 19A of the constitution, every citizen has the “right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.”
He said that when asked a query, the governmental section concerned was bound to provide the information within 21 days.
Giving the presentation through computer slides, he identified the public bodies that could be approached for information.
These bodies include any ministry, division or department of the federal or provincial government or legislature, any board, commission and municipal or local authority set up by the government, courts and tribunals or any other corporation or institution funded by or is answerable to the government.
To give an example, he presented a list of questions one could put to these bodies and also identified the information and record categorised as “exempt from disclosure” as it could be of sensitive nature to the state.
However, Mr Sadiq did admit that the chances of getting the required information stood at “close to zero”.
Noting that a majority of government departments were even oblivious of the Freedom of Information Act, he quoted a few episodes where he was unable to get the information that he had requested for from various departments.
At the same time, he urged the audience to not be daunted and continue their struggle towards implementing the law.
He said that he had the hope that gradually things would get better in the country.
“We all wish to improve the governance and the process of accountability. The mechanism is in place — we just need to apply it,” he said.
He said that while Balochistan and Sindh introduced the Freedom of Information Act in 2005 and 2006 respectively, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had yet to do so.
“However, since the law is in place at the federal level, citizens of the two provinces can still get their required information under the law.”
Explaining the key features of the law, Mr Sadiq said that every public body should designate an official not below of Grade-19 whose duty should be exclusively to provide citizens with easy access to information.
In case of absence of such a position, it would be the responsibility of the head of the department to provide the required information. There should also be an application form on government website to record details of the query, he said.
“If the required information is not provided within 21 days, the applicant can take up the matter with the in-charge of the department and later with the mohtasib [ombudsman].”
Mr Sadiq informed the participants about five steps following which one could obtain the required data.
His presentation was punctuated by insightful questions asked by the participants, who also gave suggestions in connection with the discussion.