According to the UN Charter, to which Pakistan is a signatory, every citizen has the Right to Information (RTI) allowing citizens to ask for information as their right, just as every citizen has the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.

It is meant to make the Government more effective in delivering social and economic public services, which require constant monitoring and attention, and to eliminate corruption and establish accountability of government actions through the enforcement of the Rule of Law.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom of information laws by country).

In 2002, the Government of Pakistan had established the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, in order to ensure transparency in government and to hold the federal and provincial governments more accountable.

(http://www.pakistan.gov.pk/divisions/ContentInfo.jsp?DivID=13&cPath=118_122&ContentID=250\).

Since then, Shehri, various NGOs and Helpline Trust, have been pursuing this Ordinance and trying to enforce the FIO, by demanding information from the various government agencies, relating to information. However, this has been an uphill task and in many cases, without any positive results.

For the record, Islamabad was the first to introduce FIO in 2002, followed by Balochistan in 2005, then Sindh in 2006 and now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on 18th August 2013. Surprisingly, the Punjab government, which claims that it believes in transparency and accountability, is the only province in Pakistan without a FOI law.

KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak announced that they were not shy of accountability and transparency in government departments and that is why his government had introduced the Right to Information Ordinance 2013 in the province. “The law should have been enacted soon after the passage of 18th Amendment in April, 2010, but unfortunately the previous provincial government did not pay any attention to that important legislation”.

Out of all the above FOI laws, the KP law is much more comprehensive and effective, and under the leadership of Imran Khan, a former cricketer, now turned political leader, one hopes that things will change and the FOI Law will be enforced in letter and in spirit. 

To his credit, IK has put our ‘professional leaders and politician’ to shame, as in our checkered political history, not one of them has tried to establish this important Law, which, is a fundamental, Constitutional right of all citizens.

Under the FOI law, any citizen can seek any information or record from any public body, except for information categorized as ‘exempt from disclosure’. The Law also provides a grievance redressal mechanism for those who are denied information.

However, in contrast, the Indian Right to Information (RTI) law is much more comprehensive and powerful and is rated as one of the best RTI laws in the world. It came into force on 12 October 2005 and states:

 ‘WHEREAS democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information, which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed’. (http://righttoinformation.gov.in/).

Through the above site, an ordinary citizen can easily track the progress of his or her individual complaint, just like the tracking facility provided by TCS to its consumers, for tracing their individual documents.

The RTI law has become a great tool for the citizens of India, to strengthen democracy and good governance and as an instrument to demand their ‘right to information’.

Combined with the Indian Bureau of Investigation, an autonomous and committed organisation, together with Judicial Activism and concerned citizens, have collectively put the Indian government, parliamentarians and the business community under the microscope.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we lack all the above three and the citizens are either unaware or not bothered to use the FOI to their advantage, as many of the problems that we face are linked to lack of access to information.

If the existing FOI laws were enforced in letter and in spirit, then the Supreme Court would not be accused of overstepping its mandate and wasting its precious time on petty issues and be able to play its constitutional role and focus on monitoring the blatant abuse and misuse of power by even the present government.  The strict enforcement of the FOI law would also allow ordinary citizens to bell the ‘Fat Cats’ who smugly sit in our parliament. At the same time, there would be no need for persons like Julian Assange, William Binney and the investigative teams of the media and their Wicked Wiki Leaks.

The proper use of FOI would also enable citizens to have access to the Commission reports that the government is so fond of establishing and other vital information relating to governance.

Coming back to real time, the much-awaited traditional National address to the Nation was finally made by our third time elected PM, Nawaz Sharrif, after a lapse of two months.

However, for many, the address was disappointing and lacked substance, as it touched only the massive corruption, mismanagement and incompetence of the previous PPP government, a fact that the entire nation was well aware of.

The PM, with a heavy mandate failed to touch on sensitive issues like terrorism, the deteriorating law and order situation, the power crisis, the falling rupee, the economy, etc.

The PM and his colleagues seem to forget that they were in a position to put a stop the past PPP government for its sins of ‘omission and commission’, but preferred to play the role of a Friendly Opposition and ‘muck-muckao’ was their name of the game.

In other words, do not rock the boat, so to cry FOUL at this stage, is not being very honest with the citizens who elected them into power.

The PML-N was elected by the nation, with the hope that its government would be capable of enforcing the Rule of Law, establish accountability without fear or favor, end target killings, institutionalized corruption and the power crisis, saving the country from sliding into chaos.

However, that does not seem to be the case, as the PM’s National Address provided no solutions and on how his government plans to tackle these Herculean problems. Perhaps the coming months might remove the apprehension that many citizens have and if not, then what?

n The writer can be reached at email: trust@helplinetrust.org).