In the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression: ‘Freedom will be bereft of all effectiveness if people have no access to information.’
The Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 provided an exhaustive list of rights in chapter I (Article 10-28) including right to freedom of speech and expression. However the right to information was not included until 2010 when Article 19 A was finally inserted in the Constitution under 18th Constitutional Amendment. In Pakistan the movement to enact Freedom of Information (FOI)/ Right to Information (RTI) picked up momentum in 1990s. The first ever bill on FOI was tabled in the parliament in 1990 by Senator Prof. Khursheed Ahmad. The second bill on the subject was moved by Senator Malik Muh ammad Qasim, who was chairing the public accounts committee in 1994. Both these bills were debated on the floor of the house but were never enacted. The FOI Ordinance 1997 was the first ever successful legislation on the right to information but it failed to get ratification from the Parliament and lapsed after only six (6) months. It was in this backdrop that Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan in 2001, produced the ‘Model FOI Act 2001’ through a consultative process, involving local, regional and international FOI/ RTI experts, law practitioners and stakeholders, both from private and public sectors
The Article 19A of the Constitution of Pakistan states:
“Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restriction imposed by law.”
It has been internationally observed that the design of FOI legislation greatly determines its impact. Over-restrictive laws, those with vague provisions, with lots of scope for exemptions, etc will fail to do justice to the spirit of FOI in practice. RTI-Pakistan is the flagship program, which has ever since been committed to the strengthening of legal and institutional framework, research and advocacy, capacity building, and public awareness for greater access to information in Pakistan. Its first milestone was the preparation of a Model Right to Information Act, 2001 based on comparative research and universal standards of transparency and disclosure. The model law was presented to the government to facilitate the enactment of a similar law. The FOI-Pakistan’s lobbying and advocacy contributed significantly to the promulgation of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, Baluchistan Freedom of Information ACT 2005, Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006 and KP RTI Ordinance 2003.