Why is access to information difficult in Balochistan?
Despite the passage of the Access to Information (RTI) Act, journalists in Balochistan are facing difficulties in accessing information.
Compared to other provinces, the Balochistan government delayed the passage of the RTI bill in the assembly. According to Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, every citizen has the right of access to government affairs, for which the 18th Amendment asked each province to enact legislation to provide access to information. Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the federal government have not only enacted legislation but also started implementing the law. Balochistan proved to be the last province in this matter.
The Balochistan Cabinet has approved the rules and regulations of the Access to Information Act made last year. The Balochistan Assembly had approved the Right to Information Bill presented by the Parliamentary Secretary for Information Bushra Rand in February 2021. 10 months later, on December 28, 2022, the cabinet also approved the rules and regulations in a meeting chaired by Balochistan Chief Minister Quddus Bizenjo.
After the approval of the rules and regulations, the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner and three members was to be implemented, after which the implementation of the Access to Information Act would begin.
Matiullah Mati, associated with investigative journalism, says that due to non-implementation of the (RTI) Bill, journalists in Balochistan face a lot of difficulties in accessing information compared to other provinces. He says that after the bill was passed, he was happy that now he will not have any difficulties in getting any kind of information, but the opposite happened! Even after the bill is passed, access to information remains difficult.
Mutiullah Muti says that till now he has filed RTIs for obtaining information from 20 different government institutions using the right of access to information, but due to the lack of information officers in the institutions, he has not received any kind of response. Could not find information.
Bahram Lahri, a social worker who has been fighting for access to information law for five years and belongs to the social organization ED (Association Integrated Development Balochistan), says, “His organization has been working on the (RTI) bill for five years. was struggling to get it passed by the assembly, but due to the inattention of the members of the assembly and the bureaucracy, the matter dragged on because the bureaucracy did not want the bill to be passed and their interests would be hurt.
Due to the efforts of social organizations, the provincial government finally passed the bill late compared to other provinces, but the establishment of information commission, appointment of information commissioners and information officers are delayed.
He further said that there is a lack of awareness and awareness among the people regarding this bill and the government is using delay tactics due to which the people are deprived of their constitutional right to access information.
Lawyer Azmatullah and lawyer Abdul Jabbar Badizai, who worked on the RTI Bill, filed a petition against the Balochistan government last year for not fully implementing the Access to Information Bill. Implementation has also started while in Balochistan it is delayed. After the constitutional petition was filed, the Balochistan High Court has sought a response from the Information Department.
Manzoor Baloch, General Secretary of Balochistan Union of Journalists, said that journalists in Balochistan still get basic information from their sources, while there are many difficulties in accessing official information due to which the information cannot reach the people on time. After the RTI Bill was approved by the Balochistan Assembly and the Cabinet, information officers were appointed by some institutions, but the establishment of the commission is still delayed. He said that if the government delays in forming the Information Commission, Balochistan Union of Journalists will take direct action.
He demanded that the government of Balochistan should also provide special training to the journalists regarding the RTI Bill so that they can be aware of the rules, regulations and procedures of the Bill.
Farah Azeem Shah, spokesperson of Balochistan government, says that “rules of business were presented to the cabinet for approval and after review, they were handed over to the sub-committee of the cabinet, which will present its report in the next meeting of the cabinet.” After that, the Information Commission will be made active by making appointments to the Commissioner, Focal Persons and other posts immediately.
Member of the Provincial Assembly Mir Zahoor Bilidi says that (RTI) Act 2005 is a substitute for the law in which time for providing information, formation of Information Commission and appointment of officers, punishment for not providing information has been determined. . It is clear in the Constitution of Pakistan that every citizen has the right to access information. Member of the Provincial Assembly Zahoor Bilidi, who was in the lead in making the RTI draft, says that the RTI bill was presented twice in the assembly, but due to some flaws, it was approved the second time, but there are still flaws that need to be amended. There is a need for such as appointment of retired employees instead of government employees already holding government positions in the commission or new recruitments should be made so that the corruption of the governments does not get favor.
He said that in the first draft of the bill, punishment was not proposed for the officers who did not provide information, but in the second time, punishments have been added.
Mir Zahoor Bilidi further explains that access to information is a fundamental right in a democratic society so that a citizen can access their taxes, government policy and other matters but due to government inattention and incompetence, access to information laws in Balochistan Implementation is delayed.
Former President PFUJ Prince Zavalafiqar says that not only journalists but all citizens should have the right to access information. Often journalists get information from their own sources instead of getting information with the help of RTI because information is not being provided through RTI. If it is seen that after the RTI Bill is passed, it has been made easier for citizens to get information regarding public interest, but even after the Bill is passed, the law is not being fully implemented by various departments. It is a tragedy.
He further said that with the full implementation of the RTI Act, not only corruption, nepotism and other financial irregularities can be significantly reduced in the province, therefore the RTI Act is not being fully implemented.