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“From FOI to RTI: Some Lessons and Insights”

Right to information is a fundamental requirement for transparency and good governance. An

informed citizenry is expected to make better political choices and monitor the performance of

public bodies more efficiently. A well deliberated Right to Information legislation, effective

implementation mechanisms and matching political will can play a significant role in achieving

this goal.

“Freedom of Information” (FOI) or now increasingly referred to as “Right to Information” (RTI)

is a universal fundamental right. It can be defined as the right to access information held by

public bodies. This right is recognized under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human

Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the

freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of

frontiers”

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. It is also an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as

recognized by Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946.

The Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 provided an exhaustive list of rights in

chapter I (Article 10-28) including right to freedom of speech and expression, however the right

to information was included in 2010 under 18th Constitutional Amendment.

Legislative history of Pakistan reflects that law making has not always been fueled with public

interest. In fact law making has been subject to certain expediencies and variety of other factors

ranging from inadequate knowledge of issue, lack of interest, weak democratic institutions,

political compromises, protecting vested interests. More significant has been the pressure of

international financial institutions which include World Bank and IMF. Resultantly, undesirable

policies and laws which hinder the process of good governance have been introduced or enacted.

Unfortunately, the fate of FOI legislation has also been marked with the same expedience and

pragmatism.

In Pakistan the movement to enact Freedom of Information (FOI)/ Right to Information (RTI)

picked up momentum in 1990s. In the past decade the effectiveness of federal and provincial

FOI laws has highlighted a number of legal and procedural deficiencies in the existing

framework including; deficient scope, restrictive nature due to exemptions and exceptions,

limitations of the review processes, so on and so forth. At the same time, numbers of attempts

have been made to address the existing shortcomings in the FOI laws. Private member bills were

presented in the Assembly demanding enactment of a fresh comprehensive RTI Law in the

country in 2004, 2008, 2010 and finally in 2011. During this period, CRCP reviewed all private

member bills and highlighted gaps and concerns which needed to be debated for making RTI

legislation comprehensive and effective. A brief account of all these efforts is as follows: (See the attachment)

 

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DATED: Wednesday, 29 April 2015 10:55
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