ISLAMABAD (Staff Report) – Speakers at a seminar on the Right to Information Legislation and Implementation in Pakistan have unveiled the steps being taken by the provincial and federal governments for enacting modern RTI legislation in Pakistan.

“The Government of Pakistan has constituted a special committee including senior parliamentarians such as Pervaiz Rashid, Ahsan Iqbal, Anusha Rahaman Khan, Irfan Siddiqui and Marriyum Aurangzeb to formulate recommendations on the Right to Information Bill 2014,” said Nasir Jamal, Director General, Internal Publicity Wing, Federal Ministry of Information Broadcasting and National Heritage, during the national seminar on RTI yesterday.

Expected to have its first meeting within the next week, the committee has been tasked with re-evaluating whether issues such as National Security, Foreign Relations and Law Enforcement are sufficiently protected under the draft law, given the changing security situation.

Mr Jamal added the committee would invite feedback and input from relevant stakeholders including civil society organisations such as PILDAT.

Revealed for the first time in public Zeenat Jahan, Director Information, Sindh’s Information and Archives Department, read out clauses of the Sindh Right to Information Bill 2015, pertaining to whistleblower protection and the powers and composition of the Sindh Information Commission.

The responsibilities of the Sindh Information Commission have been drafted in line with the powers and responsibilities of the Information Commissions in Punjab and KP.

Ms Jahan said the bill has been vetted by the Law Department and is ready to be tabled in the Sindh assembly.

Discussion at the event also centered on issues of cooperation and coordination between RTI implantation agencies and the provincial bureaucracies. Punjab Chief Information Commissioner Mazhar Hussain Minhas said the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 has not been fully owned in influential quarters of the Punjab government, including the Services and General Administration Department, which has yet to approve appointments of officials to the Commission against 43 sanctioned positions in its budget.

These delays have resulted in the Punjab Information Commission resorting to non-governmental funding to deal with the rising amount of RTI complaints being received. Representing the Punjab Chief Minister’s Secretariat, Law Department Director Dr Riaz Mahmood mentioned true implementation of the law will take time. The Law department has taken steps to ensure that the PTRTIA as well as other departmental laws and regulations are being proactively disclosed on the Punjab Law Portal’s website, he added.

Shehryar Memon from Chief Secretary Office, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, shared that the Independent Monitoring Unit of the KP government has been proactively disclosing the performance of developmental project in the province. He and Prof Kalim Ullah, Information Commissioner, KP RTI Commission, agreed that the possibility of an additional allowance for those officers fulfilling the role of PIOs or including these duties in the job description of Assistant Commissioners to address the problem of low motivation amongst PIOs.

Representatives from the Balochistan Department of Information and the CM Secretariat were of the opinion that the existing FOI in Balochistan is sufficient to guarantee citizen’s access to information within the current political climate. DGPR Director Abdul Latif said that rather than drafting a new law for RTI in Balochistan, the role of the Provincial Ombudsmen should be strengthened further.

The National Seminar on Right to Information Legislation and its Implementation was organised by PILDAT under the More effective Right-To-Information (RTI) at Federal and Provincial level (Sindh and Punjab) Project, for which PILDAT has received financial support from Development Alternative Inc. (DAI) under the Enhanced Democratic Accountability and Civic Engagement (EDACE) Project.