There are two sets of right to information laws in Pakistan. Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005, Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006, and Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 are inadequate as these laws do not meet international standards of effective right to information legislation. ‘Information’ is not defined, the list of exempted information is vague, there is no harm test, and the process of access to information held by public bodies is neither cost-effective nor easy. More importantly, instead of establishing independent and autonomous commissions, the role of appellate body has been entrusted to Ombudsman. That is why empirical data collected over the years by using these 1st generation laws also supports assertion of the right to information activists in the country that these are highly ineffective laws and need to be repealed if the constitutional right of citizens guaranteed through Article 19-A is to be promoted and protected.
On the other hand, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 and the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 meet standards of right to information legislation. ‘Information’ is clearly defined, list of exempted information is clear and precise, process of submitting information requests is both easy and cost-effective and independent and autonomous commissions have been established with powers to get these laws implemented. As a result, civil society groups, citizens and journalists are using 2nd generation right to information laws in greater frequency than 1st generation right to information laws.
Balochistan government has drafted a law to repeal Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005. It is important to learn from the experiences of Information Commissioners, Ombudsman, civil society groups to carry forward the process of right to information legislation in Balochistan. What has been the experience of Information Commissioners of Punjab Information Commission and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission with regard to ensuring citizens’ right of access to information held by public bodies? What has been the experience of Balochistan Ombudsman in handling complaints filed under Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005? What has been the experience of civil society groups, right to information activists and journalists in using right to information laws? It is in this context that Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, (CPDI) will be holding round table consultation on ‘Right to Information Legislation in Balochistan: the Way Forward’ on 08 November, 2016 at Serena Hotel, Quetta. Elected representatives, Information Commissioners from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, RTI experts, civil society representatives and journalists will be participating in this round table conference.
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