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Rehman Offers RTI Bill in Pakistan National Assembly

Source: freedominfo.org

Date: 14 October 2011

Member of Parliament Sherry Rehman Oct. 11 introduced a right to information bill in the Pakistan National Assembly.

Her bill, however, does not yet have the support of the government. The government “did not oppose the private member’s bill,” noted one newspaper report.

“It is ironic that it has been tabled as a private member’s bill, rather than with the support of the ruling party, which would have made the chances of its promulgation much stronger,” commented Sania Nishtar to FreedomInfo.org. Nishtar, the founding president of the nongovernmental think tank Heartfile, also said, “In Pakistan’s entire legislative history there are only a few instances where parliament has passed Private Members bills.”

Rehman said, “The new RTI bill proposes to repeal the 2002 Ordinance on Freedom of Information in an effort to make all public and private bodies falling within its ambit increasingly accountable to citizens.”

She said the bill will facilitate and encourage the disclosure of information while providing reasonable exemptions. “It will also seek to ensure that all restrictions and exceptions on the right to information are weighed against the greater public interest,” she said.

Rehman, a former information and broadcasting minister and a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, called the right to information the “oxygen” for democracy.

The bill would require some proactive disclosures, for example on organizational structure and budgets. It includes protection for whistle-blowers.

In 2004 and 2008, Rehman submitted RTI legislation that was never taken up for discussion, and the latest bill is called an improvement on earlier versions.

Currently, the right of citizens to information is covered by the Freedom of Information Ordinance of 2002, described as “flawed both in terms of concept and content” in a document summarizing Rehman’s proposal from the Jinnah Institute, which Rehman heads.

Nishtar said the new bill addresses some of the current weaknesses,  particularly “the excessive broad regime of exceptions and the restrictive approach to the definition of public record.”

He also commented, “The other problem with respect to this legislation is more overarching in nature. There is very little public awareness relating to the implications of this law, particularly with respect to the manner in which this instrument can empower people and ways in which it can be an entry point to improving governance. As such therefore, there is no public demand for this legislation, which is an additional challenging factor.”