February 2, 2013 - Comments Off on Press Release: Punjab Government Urged to Enact Effective Right to Information Law
Lahore, January 30, 2013: Punjab despite being the biggest province of the country housing over 100 million people has not done legislation to provide its residents easy access to information held by provincial departments. The tenure of the present provincial is coming to a close but only draft bill on right to information has been prepared by the Punjab government. This was stated in conference by Coalition on right to Information, a forum of 17 civil society organizations which is working towards the enactment in Pakistan of right to information laws according to international best practices of right to information legislation and implementation
of existing information laws. The participants of the conference unanimously passed ‘CRTI Lahore Declaration’ urging Punjab government to enact law on right to information on priority basis. The declaration also put forward specific recommendations aimed at improving draft bill prepared by the Punjab government. CRTI recommendations include, firstly, that instead of ‘Freedom of Information Act’ the draft bill should be titled as Punjab Right to Information Act 2010. The Preamble should refer to Article 19-A of the Constitution and say that right to access to information is a fundamental right of all citizens and that the purpose of the Act is to
facilitate implementation of this fundamental right.
Secondly, the law cannot be restricted to ‘citizens of Punjab’, as it is suggested in the draft bill. It is a fundamental right of all citizens of Pakistan. Any restriction imposed on any citizen (irrespective of where he or she lives) would be in contravention of Article 19-A of the Constitution. The third CRTI recommendation pertained to the establishment of Punjab Information Commission. CRTI welcomes the establishment of Punjab Information Commission. Without a strong and effective Commission, the law will not achieve its objectives, as it will fail in implementation. In our region, both India and Bangladesh have established Information Commissions for such purposes. It is suggested that Commission should consist of 2 former government servants (either the retired ones or those who left the job after at least 10 years of government service; total work experience not being less than 15 years), 2 retired judges of high court or persons who are qualified to be appointed as high court judges, and 1 person from the civil society with a distinguished record of at least 15 years of work on human rights or governance issues. This would ensure representation of diverse sectors and hence would bring to the table diverse perspectives. It will also ensure that Commission does not exclusively consist of retired persons who, while being highly experienced, may not fully appreciate latest developments related to governance, information regimes and use of appropriate technologies.
Fourthly, the provision in the draft Punjab law that excludes Notings on the file and minutes of the meetings needs to be deleted. No such provision exists in the good laws around the world including the India RTI Act. It MUST BE DELETED as it excludes huge amount of information and records without any reasonable justification. In a democratic country, people have all the right to know how government uses the powers and resources at its disposal, which should only be used in the larger public interest. Any exclusion of documents and information relating to internal working will negate peoples’ right in this regard and, hence, will undermine their ability to oversee and make suggestions for increasing efficiency or improving performance. This is clearly an unreasonable restriction and is, therefore, in contravention of Article 19-A of the Constitution.
This change would make its title consistent with Article 19-A of the Constitution (inserted through 18th Amendment), which is titled as Right to Information and which has made it a fundamental right of all citizens.