Islamabad: Friday – August 19, 2022: Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), in collaboration with Pakistan Information Commission (PIC), organized a one-day dialogue on “Right to Information: Implementation Status, Achievements and Challenges”. The objective of the dialogue was to share the findings of the RTI assessment report and generate informed debate among stakeholders about the challenges and hurdles posed in the implementation of RTI laws in Pakistan.
The panelists of the dialogue included; Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director, CPDI, Mr. Muhammad Azam, Chief Information Commissioner, (PIC), Mr. Fawad Malik, Information Commissioner, Mr. Zahid Abdullah, Information Commissioner, Mrs. Farah Hamid Khan, Chief Information Commissioner KP, Ms. Naeema Kishwar, MPA KP Assembly, Ms. Kanwal Pervaiz Ch, MPA, Punjab Assembly, and Mr. Anwar Yousafzai, Executive Director C-GPA, Mr. Taj Haider, Senator. The event was attended by Public Information Officers (PIOs) of the Federal Ministries, journalists, CSOs’ personnel, and the lawyers’ fraternity.
Mr. Amer Ejaz, Consultant, CPDI shared the findings of the study titled “Assessment of Right to Information Implementation (Proactive & Reactive Disclosure)”. The study identifies gaps regarding proactive disclosure of information, implementation of specific institutional measures, and responses to RTI requests. Monitoring the results of the implement the Right to Information legislation in Pakistan demonstrated that public bodies do not follow the requirements of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 in letter and spirit.
The study found that the ministries and departments have failed to impart training to PIOs and sensitize them about the legal requirements of the Right to Information. None of the selected ministries or departments has developed any plan for RTI implementation. Only a couple of ministries have placed the guidelines prepared by the Information Commission on their websites.
Most of the ministries selected for this study develop yearbooks. But no department has included the figures about the RTI requests in the yearbook or has published any separate report for RTI implementation in their ministry or department.
Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, ED CPDI, explained the importance of information and said that the essence of RTI revolves around the online/offline proactive disclosure of information by government departments. He appreciated that RTI laws have been enacted at the provinces and federal levels whereas implementation remains a question, especially in Sindh and Balochistan. He welcomed the newly appointed first female Chief Information Commissioner in KP Information Commission (KPIC). He encouraged citizens to use their fundamental right to know to promote transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness of citizens.
Mr. Anwar Yousafzai, ED, C-GPA, identified the gaps in the implementation of the KP RTI Act, and Mrs Farah Hamid, Chief Information Commissioner ensured in implementation of the KP RTI Act with letter and spirit. KP Information Commission will continue advocacy and awareness campaign with the collaboration of civil society organizations to promote the use of RTI laws, she added. The awareness campaign and capacity-building workshops are extending to FATA and PATA regions as well since the merger of these regions in KP.
Proactive disclosure of information through websites in the digital age can decrease the burden of Information Commissions in terms of access to information, said Mrs. Naeema Kishwar, MPA, KP Assembly. She further added, that awareness for the mass is crucial for the use of citizens’ access to information and the procedures for obtaining information should be simple and easy.
Ms. Kanwal Pervaiz Ch, MPA, Punjab Assembly, said RTI is a tool for transparency but the designation of Public Information Officer (s) PIOs in the department is important to implement the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 as various departments are working without the nomination of PIOs. She offered to raise her voice in the Punjab Assembly for the effective implementation of Punjab RTI law.
Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) is facing serious challenges to implement the Act. These challenges include administrative, procedural, and legal challenges since its establishment in November 2018 added Mr. Muhammad Azam, Chief Information Commissioner, PIC. In spite of these challenges the commission got more than 260 PIOs nominated in different federal ministries and departments, more than 578 orders have been issued, and with the limited resources PIC extended an awareness campaign throughout Pakistan in each press club.
The state should disclose information about its actions and steps proactively. Resultantly the respect of departments can be increased added Mr. Taj Haider, Senator. He offers his service to improve the federal and Sindh RTI laws in terms of maximum disclosure of information and procedures to be simple and easy.
During the question-answer session, the participants were enlightened in detail regarding the implementation of RTI laws in Pakistan. In the end, all the participants pledged to continue their joint efforts for the promotion of a transparent and accountable RTI regime in Pakistan with maximum public access to information.