RIGHT TO INFORMATION

RIGHT TO INFORMATION

In democratic countries accountability accounts for a substantial role. Accountability provides a good balance between executive power and citizen control. A lesser known fundamental right, the right of every citizen of Pakistan to information, much less heard and even lesser acknowledged. An act has passed called Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 that endorses the right of citizens to information pertinent to records held by public offices. The timeline for legislation regarding right to information in Pakistan suggests that the real struggle began in 1990s. While nearly 100 countries have laws that grant individuals a general right to access information held by public bodies, only 13 had such laws till 1990. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) describes information as “the oxygen of democracy” owing to its importance in the processes of decision-making and opinion-forming. A form of government that claims to be of, by and for the people stands on the pillars of good governance and accountability, both of which require public to scrutinise the actions of leaders, hence making access to information a key tool in combating corruption. As per the Right to Information Act, a person who is a citizen of Pakistan can lodge an application to any of the public authorities across the country for seeking information. Section 7 of the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010 inserted a new Article 19-A after Article 19 whereby every citizen was granted “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”. This amendment, however, was a fruit of an enduring journey. The record of all public bodies including the policies and guidelines, transactions involving acquisition and disposal of property, expenditures undertaken by a public body in the performance of its duties and functions, information regarding grant of licenses, allotments and other benefits, privileges, contracts and agreements made by a public body, final orders and decisions, including decisions relating to members of public and any other record which may be notified by the Minister-in-charge of the Federal Government as public record for the purpose of this Act can be accessed through this law. Governments have learned that it is impossible to keep secrets in the long run. Right to Information enables an accountable and legitimate government. It ensures that people can choose their own leaders and put a check and balance on them. However, there also exists a list of records which may not be sought, including the official records of armed forces, defence installations, matters related to defence and national security, details of individuals, bank accounts, and issues related to law enforcement and public safety etc. Law has at once been in effect. Ironically, most of public office bearers are not wary of act. Dissemination of awareness about the Right of Access to Information Act is what should be the priority. Apart from conventional tools like, print and electronic media; social media can play important role in spreading awareness. Students should be taught about RTI in educational institutions. It should as matter of fact, be a part of curricula. Effective educational measures can help in seeking the attention of the general public as a whole, and the youth in particular, in how the usage of RTI can lead to survival, sustenance and security of life. Being a responsible member of society, everyone should spread awareness about the Right of Access to Information Act and its benefits to society, for it can change our fate. Bibliography: Aurangzeb, Maryam. 2017. “The Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 – National Assembly of …” Lemieux, Victoria L. 2014. Right to Information Laws: Are They Transparent? august 9. Accessed 2018. https://blogs.worldbank.org/governance/are-right-information-laws-transparent. Mohsin, Aminah. 2017. Right toInformation. September 24. Accessed August 2018. https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/09/24/right-to-information/.2016 Right to information. October 10. Accessed August 2018. https://www.dawn.com/news/1289064/right-to-information. Santos, Lean Alfred. 2015. Why accountability matters for democracy. October 16. Accessed 2018. https://www.devex.com/news/why-accountability-matters-for-democracy-87121.