The government is working to amend the current Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 at the federal level and trying to convert it into a Right to Information Bill to provide better access to information and stop misuse of the oft-used excuse of ‘national interest’ that is applied so arbitrarily.
A Senate body comprising of members from both treasury and opposition benches has already approved the amended draft which will be presented in the National Assembly soon.
Here are some of the salient features of the proposed draft:
Recognition of right to know
The bill recognises citizens’ right to know under the Constitution of Pakistan 1973. It also recognises the right to information about the activities of the government.
Misuse of ‘national interest’
Under the bill, no state institution would be allowed to shield corruption and human rights violations in the name of “national interest”.
–The defence ministry’s blunt suggestion that the RTI legislation should not be taken up without obtaining an NOC (no objection certificate) from the ministry was rejected.
Protection to whistleblowers
Whistleblowers of any organistaion including from security organsiations who raise flag on corruption and misappropriations will be protected and given immunity from prosecution.
Access to public CCTV footage
The bill proposes to ensure public access to the CCTV footage at public places.
Information on matters relating to human rights
Under the proposed bill, no information that pertains to matters of fundamental human rights will be allowed to be withheld.
The draft proposes that information about the ‘missing persons’ will be provided in writing by the relevant institution within three days of a request for the same.
The prime minister will form a three-member commission with the power to order public bodies to provide information and records under the bill. The commission will entertain requests for records from the past 20 years, as records older than 20 years will automatically pass in the public domain.
Formation of commission
The commission members will comprise one member of civil society, one from the bureaucracy, and one from the judiciary. All members should be under 65 years of age.
Report to parliament
The commission will provide bi-annual report to parliament on the activities of public bodies.
Removal from commission
A standing committee of the Senate and National Assembly will have the authority to remove members of the commission.
Action against commission members
Penal action will be taken against members of the commission in case they deliberately destroy any records.
As per State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb, under the proposed bill sensitive information regarding issues related to ‘national interest’ and foreign policy will not be made public. In such a case, an authorised officer will have to explain in writing why the information should not be made public.