Thursday, February 16, 2017

Idealism and ground realities : Editorial

Pakistan Today: Editorial‎‎‎‎: Pakistan: Thursday, February 16, 2017.
We have already the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and Article 19A, inserted during the passage of the 18th amendment of 2010. That the need for a new law is being felt indicates dissatisfaction with the earlier legislation.
The presumption is that the earlier law was not transparent, encouraged unnecessary delays in providing information or lacked an efficient implementation mechanism. Instead of waiting for information for three weeks, the proposed law provides three days deadline.  A three  member Commission appointed by the Prime Minister  would now  hear the RTI request  besides being  empowered  to order public bodies to disclose information and provide records. There are new ideas in the proposed law, which have already been implemented by a number of countries.  Records older than 20 years will automatically pass into the public domain.  In case a person is abducted and killed by the security agencies, the agencies will no longer be able to use ‘national security’ as an excuse not to provide information on the matter. Information regarding corruption in public institutions will now be more readily available. If there is corruption in a security organisation, that information will have to be made public on request.
The 2002 Ordinance and the insertion of Article 19A could prove unsatisfactory because of three big impediments, the political governments, civil bureaucracy and military bureaucracy. The ruling parties desperately want to keep under lock and key the skeletons rattling in their cupboards.  The bureaucracy believes its power springs from its monopoly over information and is unwilling to share it. The military bureaucracy is averse to own that it has done anything wrong. It is easy to pass the bill unanimously in the Senate. The pressure from the trio would become nerve racking when bill reaches the much larger National Assembly where different lobbies having stakes become highly active.  All will depend on whether the Prime Minister has the will and the intrepidity to put his weight behind the proposed RTI law.