Your Right To Information Matters Because You Never Know When You’re Going To Need It
The right to acquire information is a fundamental right of every citizen of Pakistan. However, citizens are less aware of their basic fundamental right which is guaranteed to them by the Constitution of Pakistan as this right is not acknowledged to a great extent.
The Constitution of Pakistan provides in its article 19-A that every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance, subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.
According to the article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) information is like the oxygen of democracy and its importance cannot be denied in the processes of decision-making and opinion-forming.
Presently, nearly a hundred countries have laws that grant individuals a general right to access information held by public bodies, while only 13 countries had such laws uptil 1990.
Universal Legislation for Freedom of Information (FOI)
On 28th September, 2002, organizations promoting freedom of information (FOI) all over the world joined heads in Bulgaria and founded the FOI Advocates Network. The aim of this coalition was to endorse the right of access to information for all the people and to access government/public information while promoting freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance.
Thus, the UNESCO General Assembly in 2015 declared 28th September as the “International Right to Know (RTI) Day”. Most of our nationals are still not aware of the purpose of celebrating this day.
The Journey of FOI in Pakistan
In Pakistan, the journey for freedom of information (FOI) started in 1990. The first ever FOI Bill was presented in the Senate in 1990. This Bill played an important role in preparing a draft of FOI. The federal government formalized RTI in October 2002 under the auspices of the World Bank. Then the Balochistan FOI Act 2005 came into existence, followed by the Sindh FOI Act passed in 2006, the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013.
Finally, the Right of Access to Information bill was passed by the National Assembly in October 2017. According to the RTI Act 2017, citizens shall have complete access to the record of public authorities.
Declaration of Public Record
According to section 6 of the RTI Act 2017, the following record of all public bodies is declared as public record:
- policies and guidelines;
- transactions which involved acquisition and disposal of property and expenditure and cost involved by a public body in the performance of its duties and functions;
- information regarding grant of licenses, allotments and other benefits;
- privileges, contracts and agreements made by a public body;
- final orders and decisions, including decisions relating to members of public;
- and any other record for the purpose of this Act.
Exclusion of Certain Record
According to section 7 of the said Act, information contained in documents such as the official record of armed forces, defence installations, details of individuals’ bank accounts, defence and national security, record relating to the personal privacy of any individual, record of private documents furnished to a public body, either on an express or implied condition, shall not be disclosed to a third party, though information regarding defence-related commercial and welfare activities can be accessed.
Procedure for Seeking Information
Any Pakistani citizen can make a request for seeking information regarding public offices by paying a certain amount, which will be fixed later. The principal officer will have to provide the applicant with the relevant information within three to ten days.
In case of non-availability of information, the officer will have to justify his or her act in writing and clearly state why such information cannot be disclosed. The applicant will still have the right of appeal.
Right To Appeal
An applicant who is not satisfied by the decision of the said officer, can prefer an appeal to the Information Commission within 30 days. The Information Commission will, according to section 18 of this Act shall decide an appeal within a period of 60 days.
Any person who willfully obstructs the implementation of this Act shall be punishable by a fine not exceeding fifty thousand rupees, or any person who destroys the record of the application or of the appeal for access to information, or who obstructs access to information, shall be punishable for a term which may extend to two years, or by fine, or both.
Implementation of the Act and Public Awareness
I believe that through this legislation, the state will become more accountable as far as corruption and inefficiency are concerned. A fair implementation of this Act can be helpful for ensuring good governance, better economy and respect for human rights.
The Right of Access to Information Act 2017 is no doubt beneficial to the citizens of Pakistan, but the issue is that most citizens do not even know about their basic rights, due to which they are being blackmailed by the concerned departments. Corrupt officials demand a bribe in return for providing the requested information which is supposed to be available to every citizen free of cost as his or her basic right.
The State is also answerable to the public regarding the current state of several developmental projects said to be made for the welfare of the public.
The Right of Access to Information Act is an approved law now. It only needs to be spread nationwide. Awareness campaign must be run frequently so that the public may know their rights. Through social, electronic and print media, awareness can easily be increased among the public regarding the usage of this fundamental right, because, in the words of Edward Snowden, “Your rights matter, because you never know when you’re going to need them.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.