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President urged to send RAI Bill 2017 back to Parliament

ISLAMABAD: Terming the newly passed Right of Access to Information (RAI) Bill 2017 restrictive, a civil society organisation has urged the president to resend the bill to Parliament for the review under Article 74 of the Constitution.

In a letter written to President Mamnoon Hussain, the Executive Director of CPDI Amer Ejaz highlighted the flaws in the RAI Bill 2017 saying that it did not guarantee free flow of information.

“We request you to use your powers under Article 74 of the Constitution and advise Parliament to review this bill in light of suggestions from civil society and RTI experts,” he wrote. The National Assembly of Pakistan passed Right of Access to Information Bill 2017 on October 2, 2017. The bill was originated in the Senate and was passed on August 22, 2017.

“The bill defies international best practices and against the norms set by international community for Right to Information Legislation,” the letter says adding that unless the bill is reviewed and certain sections are improved or replaced, the bill will not comply with the global best practices of Right to Information legislations.

Since the introduction of bill in the Senate, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has been raising voice on various forums that the bill is restrictive in nature and will not serve the purpose of free flow of information, according to the aspiration of the citizens of Pakistan.

“The RAI Bill 2017 instead of drawing a narrow list of exemptions, declare a narrow list as public record and put most of information outside the public domain,” the letter reads. In RAI 2017, the power to apply “harm” and “public interest test” has been entrusted with the minister concerned. This is against the principal of justice that the minister is given the final powers to classify a record when minister is himself/herself a party in the case, it adds.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/235160-President-urged-to-send-RAI-Bill-2017-back-to-Parliament

Free flow of information not ensured in RAI Bill: CPDI

ISLAMABAD: Voicing its concern over the Right of Access to Information (RAI) Bill 2017 passed by the National Assembly on Monday, Centre for Peace & Development Initiatives (CPDI) has said that it does not ensure free flow of information.

“The RAI Bill 2017 is neither effective like the provincial right to information (RTI) laws nor in line with the globally accepted principles of RTI legislation. The two houses passed it without taking input from the civil society organisations and RTI experts,” CPDI Executive Director Amir Ejaz said in a statement here on Thursday.

Though, he maintained that the RAI Bill 2017 had some marked improvements over the Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance 2002, it still fell short of meeting key standards of effective RTI legislation.

“For example, instead of one narrowly drawn list of exempted information, the RAI Bill 2017 contained three separate lists: records that can be shared; records that cannot be shared; and records that can be shared but certain types of information, if contained in these records, will not be shared,” he argued.

Ejaz said the Pakistan Commission on Access to Information proposed in the RAI Bill 2017 should have been empowered to order public bodies to disclose the information if the disclosure was in public interest and outweighed the likely harm.

“How can minister-in-charge of the federal government name a document as classified, while this right should have been with the proposed commission?” Ejaz remarked.—PR

http://epaper.brecorder.com/m/2017/10/06/11-page/674702-news.html

CPDI applauses govt initiatives for Open Government Partnership

Islamabad :Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has applauded the initiatives of Ministry of Finance to form a multi-stakeholder forum to finalise the National Action Plan for Open Government Partnership.

The forum consists of representatives from provincial departments, federal ministries and civil society organizations. As a welcome step, all the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK government have also been given representation in the forum. This will also pave the way in future for sub-national governments joining the OGP.

OGP is a multilateral forum and provide an “international platform for domestic reformers committed to make their governments more open, accountable and responsive to the citizens.” It was launched in 2011 and 75 countries have joined till date. Its aim is to secure concrete commitments from the governments to promote transparency, empower citizens and fight corruption. Pakistan joined OGP in December 2016.

The next step, after joining OGP, is to make a National Action Plan for 2 years depicting commitment that government will make to open up its institutions for the public. These commitments have to be discussed and finalised on a forum jointly represented by government and civil society. Pakistan first deadline to submit the NAP to OGP was quietly passed on June 30 this year without making enough headway towards the finalization of Plan. The deadline was later extended to October 31, 2017.

CPDI Executive Director Amer Ejaz said that the pace towards finalization of National Action Plan is slow and at present pace it will not be possible to meet the extended deadline either. It is imperative that all stakeholder gear up their efforts towards early finalization of Plan. He further expressed that membership of multi-stakeholder forum is highly weighted in favour of the government. Of 21 members of the forum, civil society has been offered only 6 positions in the forum. Another concern has been raised on the terms of reference of forum. The forum will examine and review the draft commitments received from federal lead ministries/provincial departments in the light of guidelines shared by OGP headquarters. Not enough discussion has been made at lead ministry level and the commitments received from lead ministries may not represent the views of civil society. CPDI has appealed the chair of the forum to initiate the exercise at lead ministry level so that civil society can make contribution while preparing the commitments.

Fakhar Durrani wins RTI Champions Award 2017

ISLAMABAD: The News journalist Fakhar Durrani on Thursday won RTI Champions Award, 2017, for his investigative reporting based on Right to Information RTI Laws.

The award was conferred by Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) in two categories–Journalist and Citizen. Fakhar won the award in Journalist category whereas Asif Munawar in the Citizen category, here at the National Press Club.

Former Federal Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Senator Pervez Rashid, along with Senator Farhatullah Babar, presided the RTI Award ceremony.

Fakhar Durrani, the winner in the Journalist category, had made an effective use of the existing national and sub-national RTI legislation in the country to do his investigative stories, including on the parliamentarians who obtained medical treatment abroad from taxpayers’ money, HEC scholarships during the past five years and pensions of retired employees of the Ministry of Defence. In order to promote the culture of transparency and good governance, the journalists need to use this law regularly to make the rulers answerable, he said.

Asif Munawar, the winner in the Citizen category, hails from Jhang district. He filed a number of information requests under the Punjab Transparency and RTI Act, 2013, thus contributing to improving the quality of service delivery at local level.

Congratulating the winners, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives Executive Director Amer Ejaz said that people of Pakistan are empowered by the Constitution of Pakistan to get access to information; however, the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002, and Right of Access to Information Bill, 2017, which seek to repeal FOI, 2002, is regretfully still restrictive in nature.

He also mentioned the need of appointing Punjab Information Commissioners and establishment of Sindh Information Commission. He encouraged all the citizens to use their right to know.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/233325-Fakhar-Durrani-wins-RTI-Champions-Award-2017

So-called ‘gods on earth’ unwilling to share info: Pervaiz

ISLAMABAD: Former federal minister for information Senator Pervaiz Rashid Thursday said some institutions in Pakistan discouraged the flow of information and most of information was not provided on the pretext of threat to national security.

Speaking at the RTI Award ceremony, he said, “God has revealed every important information to His subjects through the holy books. He didn’t hide anything from His subjects, but these so-called gods on the earth try to hide information from people”.

“Unfortunately, it is not easy to get access to information from all the institutions. Today’s democracy in Pakistan is away from transparency. Right of access to information is not protected and the relevant laws are not implemented. Most of the information is not provided on the pretext of threat to national security.

“We should have the right to know, who helped in the emergence of non-state actors, budget spent on their making and what amount of damage they caused. These non-state actors have become a liability for Pakistan, he said.

He said the RAI Bill 2017 will gradually promote the right of getting access and it will break the culture of secrecy. He was hopeful that in future there will be culture of asking and getting information from government. Implementation of RTI law is significant for transparency and the bright future of Pakistan, he added.

Speaking at the award ceremony, which coincided with the 15th International Right to Know Day, Senator Farhatullah Babar said the good RTI law should apply to all the institutions but the security establishment in Pakistan was the elephant in the room.

“The requested information is not provided on the basis of public interest and under the label of ‘secret and sensitive’. He also criticised the institutions for delayed RTI legislation and implementation and opined that the ‘Dawn Leaks’ was not the issue of national security; it was a candid discussion between the institutional heads. The government showed weakness by removing Pervaiz Rashid.

“Parliament is not solely responsible for delayed effective legislation on RTI. We raised and asked many question from Ministry of Defence but each time the answer was ‘Secret and Sensitive’. We (the Parliamentarians) sent a question to the Defence Ministry to inform us only if there was any inquiry held on the Kargil issue. The answer from the Defence Ministry was that it secret and sensitive. We did not ask the content of inquiry or any other details but just a simple question. We as a parliamentarians submit our assets declarations which are made public by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Similarly all government official also submits their assets declaration. But when we (Parliamentarians) asked if the Ministry of Defence had the assets declaration of Generals, the answer was ‘Secret and Sensitive”, commented Senator Farhatullah Babar.

Senator Babar feared that the RTI law might not get passed by National Assembly as some hidden elements were opposing it. He said there should be a balance between national interest and public interest. The RTI Bill still have room for improvement, he said.

“Parliament has the right to ask question if any government official is found involved in corruption, but despite being parliamentarians they do not get answers to their questions,” he remarked.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/233312-So-called-gods-on-earth-unwilling-to-share-info-Pervaiz

CRTI announces RTI Champions Awards 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) conferred RTI Champions Awards 2017 on Fakhar Durrani and Asif Munawar in the ‘journalist’ and ‘citizen’ categories respectively, here at National Press Club on Thursday.

Speaking on the occasion, former federal minister for Information Pervaiz Rashid said that certain institutions in the country did not encourage free flow of information and it was not easy to get information from them. He regretted that mostly the requested information was not provided on the pretext of threat to national security.

“It is hoped that the Right of Access to Information (RAI) Bill 2017 being tabled in the National Assembly (NA) would gradually promote the culture of transparency in the country,” he said.

Speaking at the award ceremony, which coincided with the 15th International Right to Know Day, Senator Farhat Ullah Babar said the RTI law should apply to all the institutions. “The security establishment in Pakistan is the elephant in the room because it does not cater to information requests citing public interest,” he remarked.

Congratulating the winners, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives Executive Director Amer Ejaz said that the constitution empowered the people of the country to freely exercise the right to information, but the proposed RAI Bill 2017 was restrictive in nature and limited in scope. He also highlighted the need for appointing Punjab information commissioner and establishing the Sindh Information Commission.

Fakhar Durrani, the winner in the journalist category, had made an effective use of the existing national and sub-national RTI legislation in the country to do his investigative stories, including on the parliamentarians who obtained medical treatment abroad from taxpayers’ money, HEC scholarships during the past five years and pensions of retired employees of the ministry of Defence.

Asif Munawar, the winner in the citizen category, hails from Jhang district. He filed a number of information requests under the Punjab Transparency and RTI Act 2013, thus contributing to improving the quality of service delivery at the local level.

CRTI announces RTI Champions Awards 2017

Senators say ‘certain institutions’ continue to place hurdles in access to information

ISLAMABAD: Admitting that certain institutions in the country lacked transparency and accountability, former information minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Pervaiz Rashid said there were “some institutions” in the country which placed hurdles in access to information.

While speaking at a ceremony organised by the Coalition on the Right to Information at the National Press Club here on Thursday, Mr Rashid regretted that people were not granted access to information on the pretext of “national security”.

The PML-N senator said that several parliamentarians had asked questions regarding the judiciary, but had not received any reply. He said former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had vowed that martial law would never return to the country, however, Pakistan had continued to face long periods of martial law and the abrogation of the Constitution by dictators. He said the court had even allowed a military dictator to amend the Constitution.

The former minister said everyone had the right to know who created non-state organisations in the country and how much public money had been spent on them. He was of the view that the new Right to Information Bill would help promote a culture of freedom of information.

Parliament not even aware of law under which ISI has been functioning: Babar

Mr Rashid added that mere legislation would not serve the purpose as there was a need for enforcement of law in letter and spirit.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar, who had played a key role in the preparation and finalisation of the draft of the Right to Information Bill, squarely blamed security agencies for placing hurdles in the passage of the bill. He regretted that most of the information was not provided because it was termed “secret and sensitive.” He said that they had even written letters to the sensitive agencies to inquire about their concerns, but in return, they were advised not to proceed further with the bill as it dealt with “sensitive matters”.

Mr Babar said there were certain issues which could not and should not be asked from national security institutions, but questions regarding corruption by some officials of these institutions could be asked. He said parliament was not even aware of the law under which the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) had been functioning in the country.

Similarly, he added, parliament had not been provided a reply to a question regarding an inquiry into the 1999 Kargil debacle.

Mr Babar said it must be binding on every institution, including parliament and the judiciary, to provide information to the public.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2017

https://www.dawn.com/news/1360705