World Right to Know Day: Pakistan makes great legislative strides, lacks political will to implement laws

Date: September 28, 2016

The constitutional right to information in Pakistan is caught between the political enthusiasm to enact laws and the political will required to implement them, said Abrar Hafeez, secretary general of the Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP).

In his statement issued on Wednesday on the occasion of International Right to Know Day, the CRCP secretary general said that though Pakistan became the first country in South Asia to promulgate a Freedom of Information Ordinance in 2002, this law remains ineffectual on many fronts, especially regarding mechanisms for implementation, and an inordinate list of exemptions.

“Despite these serious shortcomings, Balochistan and Sindh provinces replicated the federal ordinance in 2005 and 2006, respectively,” said Hafeez. “Consequently, both provinces have yet to ensure citizens’ access to information held by public bodies.”

 He added that it took another eleven years to enact an internationally accepted law in the form of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act, 2013 which secured third slot in the Right to Information (RTI) index, a global ranking of RTI laws by the Canada-based Centre for Law and Democracy. Subsequently, Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 was another landmark legislation which secured 18th slot in the RTI index.

While explaining the significance of this constitutional right, Hafeez said that the right to information, if practically granted, provides a range of benefits to the citizens of Pakistan, which include promoting democratic participation, combating corruption and helping to foster effective, accountable and responsive government.

“We could get pleasure from the feel-good factor in having such laws, but the fundamental divergence in the implementation part doesn’t let the citizens access the benefits,” said Hafeez. “It is unfortunate that we fail to see any improvement in accessing information held by public bodies despite having federal and provincial RTI laws as well as affirming the state’s responsibility in this context.”

He emphasized that in order to create a culture of transparency, citizens must exercise this right regularly and rigorously.