KARACHI: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI), in collaboration with Sindh Information Commission (SIC), on Thursday held a provincial conference on challenges and way forward of the Right to Information (RTI) at a local hotel in Karachi.
Speakers at a conference demanded the implementation of the right to information (RTI) in the true spirit and discussed the achievements made and challenges confronted by the provincial information commissions.
Special Assistant to Chief Minister Sindh, Senator Syed Waqar Mehdi stressed the importance of reviving print media as it is one of the most credible sources of information. He laid emphasis on imparting information about RTI and information commissions to the students in colleges and universities.
He committed to discussing the linguistic issues in the Sindh RTI legislation with the law department and to arrange a meeting of the RTI advocates with the chief minister of Sindh so that betterments can be made in RTI law for the people. He said it is the will of govt of Sindh to strengthen the Sindh information commission and to ensure that people get access to public information.
Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, Executive Director, CPDI, while addressing the conference, noted that the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) has been dysfunctional for the last two months, despite that civil society and former Chief Information Commissioner, PIC wrote letters to the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to initiate the process for the appointment of federal information commissioner.
Mr. Ali added that the government criticized the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf for not disclosing the information about Tosha Khana; however, despite the court order, the PML-N-led government itself was not willing to the public this information.
Mehboob Qadir Shah, Chief Information Commissioner Punjab Information Commission, addressing the conference, said the Commission has passed more than 10 thousand orders since its establishment and took measures to ensure the implementation of these orders.
He maintained that government departments create hurdles in providing information to the citizen, but the Commission is doing its best to ensure the implementation of the right to information act.
While addressing the conference, Farah Hamid Khan, Chief Information Commissioner of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission (KPIC), said political will is mandatory for the implementation of the RTI law 2013, when the government was interested in the implementation of this law, the KPIC was considered as an ideal organization.
She added more than 1700 complaints are pending in KPIC due to vacant posts of the information commissioner. More than 44 thousand people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have practiced RTI law, 13 thousand of which have received information directly from the government department. In contrast, more than 10 thousand citizens have filed complaints to KPIC. The Commission on these complaints has passed more than 8 thousand orders/directions and ensured the provision of the information to the citizen, Mrs. Farah maintained.
Nusrat Hussain, Chief Information Commissioner Sindh Information Commission (SIC), explaining the performance of the SIC, said that despite limited resources, the Commission’s website has been launched, and all necessary information will be made available on it.
He informed that the Commission has, so far, received 150 complaints, of which 25 are resolved while the rest are under process at different stages.
Abbas Jafari, MPA Sindh Assembly said that laws are enacted but rules and regulations are not made. He agreed with the speakers that information sharing is resisted by the government and requires passion and commitment to be dug out. He emphasized that RTI has the power to unearth cases like Tosha Khana.
Journalist Azaz Syed emphasized that social and economic progress depends on not only freedom of expression but also on right to information. He said that a secrecy mindset is prevalent across all departments and institutions. He advised the information commissioners to impart RTI training in provincial and federal civil services academies, to parliamentarians, and to those in the local government. He stressed that there is an urgent need to move from a culture of secrecy to a culture of transparency and that without it, there can be no democratic strengthening.
Journalist Syed Ali Shah said that good governance is an answer to all ills of the country. He emphasized that it is important to impart awareness to journalists at the district level so they can create pressure on the government for improved transparency.
Syed Raza Ali, Project Coordinator, CPDI, stressed the importance of Right to Information laws and the challenges faced by the citizen practicing these laws.
He said, despite the legislation, the citizen faces hurdles in getting information from government departments. He maintained that the objective of the conference is to debate the challenges and to collectively discuss their solutions.
Owais Aslam, General Secretary of, the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), while addressing the conference said that the right to information is an effective tool to counter fake news. Journalist should change their behavior and should make it routine to file information requests regularly.