Civil society urges government pass Right to Information Bill
KARACHI: The Coalition on Transparency and Access to Information (C-TAI) undertook yet another attempt to convince the government to pass the Sindh Right to Information (RTI) Bill, 2015.
Members of C-TAI, which is a coalition of 26 Sindh-based NGOs, gathered at an advocacy and consultative session to discuss the draft of the bill at Movenpick hotel on Saturday afternoon. They presented their demands before deputy speaker Shehla Raza.
Referring to Article 19-A of the Constitution, the charter of demands said that every citizen has the right to access information in all matters of public importance, subject to regulations and reasonable restrictions imposed by the law. This right is also upheld by various UN resolutions and declarations that Pakistan is signatory to.
The group’s demands are simple: repeal the Sindh Freedom of Information Act, 2006, and replace it with the new RTI bill. According to C-TAI demands, the 2006 act neither provides transparency nor does it improve access to public records.
The group also rejected the Freedom of Information Bill, 2015, drafted by the Sindh information and archives department, claiming that it is a ‘complete cut-and-paste’ of the old Sindh Freedom of Information Act, 2006, and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Right to Information Act, 2013. It has been prepared without any consultation with the civil society or the public.
C-TAI wants the government to start a consultative process with the civil society and hold public hearings to find out what citizens feel about the draft bill. The group has prepared its own draft, which it feels is extensive and has been prepared after consulting people.
Raza, who was representing the Sindh government, assured C-TAI members that the Sindh RTI Bill, 2015, has yet to be brought to the assembly for a discussion. “I, on behalf of the Sindh Assembly, want to make sure that we call people from the civil society for a consultation on the bill,” she said, adding that the consultation will take place before the bill is brought in the assembly.
A member of NGO Shehri – Citizens for a Better Environment, Dr Syed Raza Ali Gardezi, who gave the presentation on behalf of C-TAI, shared that the Freedom of Information law was first introduced in Sweden in 1776. Pakistan introduced it at the federal level in 1997.
In 2002, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf promulgated the ordinance. In 2010, Article 19-A was amended through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. In 2005, Baluchistan passed the Freedom of Information Act followed by Sindh in 2006. In 2013, the KP Assembly passed the Right to Information Act, 2013, followed by the Punjab the same year.
C-TAI members agreed, however, that the proposed RTI bill has a number of shortcomings. It does not clearly define the public body, the list of allowable information is limited with an extensive list of exceptions, and a delayed timeline to access information, pointed out Gardezi. In the proposed bill, there is no independent appellate authority and no penalties for the department’s failure to provide information, he added.