PM forms panel to clear RTI draft law
ISLAMABAD: If the government is to be believed this time, the federal Right to Information (RTI) law is soon becoming a reality, as the prime minister has formed a committee to clear the draft law without approval of the cabinet.
Minister for Information Pervez Rashid told The News that a five-member committee of PML-N lawmakers will now finalize the draft law in a meeting on January 21 and it will then be laid before the house as a government bill.
The law draft was approved by the Senate Standing Committee on Information in April 2014 but it has been awaiting the cabinet’s approval for two years.
The delay prompted strong criticism from the opposition lawmakers and civil society. However, experts believe the draft law is one of the best legislations on RTI in its current shape if measured by global standards. “Since the cabinet meeting has not been taking place for a long time and the (RTI) bill was getting delayed, the prime minister decided to form a committee to consider this law. This is a way out to table the bill in Parliament as soon as possible,” said the minister.
The committee, comprising Pervez Rashid, Ahsan Iqbal, Anusha Rahman Khan, Irfan Siddiqui and Marriyum Aurangzeb, will formulate recommendations on the Right to Information Bill 2014.
“I am sending the draft to all the members of the committee so that they could study it before the meeting to be held on coming Thursday so hopefully the committee will clear it in single sitting,” the minister said.
He said the draft approved by the Senate committee will remain largely unchanged. However, a senior official of his ministry said the committee will “re-evaluate” the purview of Federal RTI Bill 2014 in light of changing security dynamic.
Speaking at a national RTI seminar organized by Pildat, Director General Internal Publicity Wing of the Ministry of Information Nasir Jamal said the five-member PML-N committee had been tasked with re-evaluating whether issues such as national security, foreign relations and law enforcement were sufficiently protected under the draft law, given the changing security situation.
“The committee would invite feedback and input from relevant stakeholders, including the civil society organizations such as Pildat,” Nasir Jamal said.
However, the opposition lawmakers are skeptical of the government’s commitment. “I am skeptical because 17 times the government had promised to bring the draft to the cabinet meeting but they failed each time in fulfilling their promise,” said Farhatullah Babar who was head of the Senate sub-committee which finalized the draft of the RTI law.
“The minister for information had promised to the information committee of the Senate more than two years ago that the bill will be presented for cabinet approval to be tabled in Parliament. However, it seems the government is not interested and wants to buy time and then pass the bill at the fade end of current term so that the rulers do not have to abide by the RTI.”
Babar said the minister does not have power to bring the law in Parliament. “I think someone else is calling the shots as far as RTI law is concerned,” he said.
The RTI bill, drafted in 2014 for replacing a weak legislation, Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, has passed through many eyes but stopped short of landing into Parliament to pass into a law.
It was also sent to the international RTI experts for review who declared it the best legislation in the world if adopted. Hence this draft law is an “if” away from bringing Pakistan atop the ranking list as its passage faces awkward delays. The FOI Ordinance 2002, currently in practice, received 78th position in international ranking of 2013.