Right to Information Bill 2014 will be presented to cabinet soon, says minister
ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pervez Rashid on Monday assured a Senate standing committee that the ‘Right to Information Bill 2014’ would be presented before the cabinet in its next meeting for approval.
During the meeting of the Senate standing committee on information and broadcasting presided over by Senator Kamil Ali Agha, the members expressed concerns over the delay in getting the bill approved from the cabinet.
“Though the bill was approved by the standing committee on July 15, it is difficult to understand why the ministry did not present it before the cabinet during its last three meetings,” said PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar.
Other members of the committee asked the chairman to write to the prime minister to expedite the process and adopt the Bill without further delay as mandated in Article 19 of the Constitution.
The minister assured the members that he would present the bill in the next meeting of the cabinet before tabling it in parliament as a government bill.
Senate body expresses concern over delay in getting the bill approved from cabinet
Mr Pervez also told the committee that the bill could not be placed before the cabinet due to the ongoing political situation in the country.
Senator Farhatullah Babar told Dawn that the RTI Bill sought to repeal the existing Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002. It is based on the principle to provide maximum disclosure, minimum exceptions, no blanket immunity and punishment for willfully withholding or destroying information.
“The Bill also provides for a three-member information commission, with wide ranging powers, to which appeals will be made. Not only bodies under the federal government but also NGOs, courts and the parliament are covered in its ambit. Even highly classified and secret documents will be made public after 20 years,” he explained.
Senator Babar added: “The groundwork for the RTI was prepared by a three-member sub-committee of the standing committee set up by Chairman Kamil Ali Agha under my supervision around 16 months ago.” He said Senator Daud Achakzai and Senator Syed Zafar Ali Shah were the members of the sub-committee.
Earlier, Senator Babar suggested to the chairman to defer the agenda item of attacks on some TV channels and taking them off air in some parts of the country.
“It is difficult to talk openly in this meeting regarding the attacks on some TV channels and taking them off air mysteriously in some parts of the country. There should be a special in-camera meeting to discuss the issue,” he added.
It may be mentioned that the matter was taken up during the recently-held joint session of the parliament and later referred by the speaker to the information committees of the Senate and National Assembly.
The committee also decided to make public the finalised code of conduct for private TV channels and ask the government to immediately start implementing it.
“The committee will set a date if the ministry failed to implement the code of conduct,” Senator Babar told Dawn.
Chairman Kamil Ali Agha directed the ministry to implement the code of conduct for private TV channels as it was already approved by the committee.
Members of the committee also showed concerns over the non-payment of salaries to journalists by some media outlets.
The committee asked the information ministry to resolve the issue in consultation with the employers.
The members also directed the ministry to put a check on the existing rating system of TV channels.
“The existing rating system emerged as a powerful tool which creates a war among TV channels. The government should take steps to put in place a check and balance system on the rating system,” the PPP senator added.