Pakistan is ahead of many other countries of the region (India promulgated the law in 2005 and Bangladesh in 2008). Its FOI Ordinance (Freedom of Information) remains a largely unused and rarely responded to document. The 18th Amendment added more weight and value to the ordinance through its provision. 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.

However, the only useful purpose the ordinance and the constitutional amendment serves is to impart the same lesson we have learnt, our problem is not the shortage of laws, but the lack of implementation. Democratic progress requires the ready availability of true and complete information so that people can objectively evaluate their government policy, to act otherwise is to give way to despotic secrecy.

On June 2008, an Islamabad based citizen submitted a request to the information and broad-casting ministry for information about money paid by the ministry from its discretionary funds to journalists between October 2002 and March 2008. The ministry refused to provide this information, stating that it came under the category of “classified information.” The ministry has repeatedly explained how and why this information could be considered classified. A fresh request was sent in September 2008, however despite the passage of two years and many interventions by the federal ombudsman, the ministry continues to withhold the information which should have in fact been provided within 21 days from of the initial application.

Pakistan needs to become mature and allow it’s the information they ask for. A new chapter of accountability and democracy could be opened, if only the ‘freedom of information’ law was to be implemented in its true spirit. Central and provincial commissioners should be appointed exclusively to see their implementation.

ZUNAIRA PERVAIZ MIR,

Lahore, September 10.