Thursday, March 16, 2017

Changing RTI

The Nation‎‎‎‎: Pakistan: Thursday, March 16, 2017.
The Senate Committee on the Right to Information (RTI) Bill 2016 has decided to drop one of the fundamental clauses of the Right to Information Bill; the whistleblower clause.
One of the more important functions of the new law, the whistleblower aspect of the new legislation was to allow for employees of government and security institutions to speak up and point out suspected graft or corruption with complete anonymity.
The stated reason for keeping the whistleblower clause out, as pointed out by the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, is that there is already a clause for wilful destruction of records in the Pakistan Penal Code.
Additionally, she voiced the fear that this clause could be exploited by government officials with vendettas, or for personal gains considering there are no punishments for false accusations.
However, where common sense would dictate that the government counteract this by putting in a punishment for false accusations, it decided to scrap this facet of the law altogether.
And even if we admit to the fact there is a chance that the whistleblower clause might be exploited, surely the threat of mass corruption, which already seemingly exists in government institutions, is much greater than a few faulty accusations here or there.
If those innocent were found to be accused, it’s not like they would have been strung up without any evidence.
History tells us that even cold hard evidence of corruption is sometimes not enough to get anything more than a plea bargain.
Massive corruption by Balochistan’s Finance Secretary and more recently, by Hyderabad’s Additional District Accounts Officer, made them both billionaires.
This is clearly years of corruption, hard at work.
Can cases like this be uncovered from the outside? Yes, but clearly the time taken to unearth these scandals could have been avoided if a whistleblower had spoken up.
This goes against what the new law was supposed to achieve; greater accountability.
Merely allowing for the public to have access to records and information regarding government institutions is not nearly enough.
Only the employees of these organisations have a complete picture of their inner workings.
Concerned citizens will still be acting on second-hand information where a whistleblower on the inside might have witnessed things themselves or have more irrefutable evidence than the institution would be willing to provide an individual demanding records.
The government’s reason for this omission is a hasty attempt to justify short-changing the people and allowing for corrupt institutions to not only survive, but thrive because there is still no real check on the officials that care more about personal gain than the common good.
The state must reconsider.