Faraz Ahmed Jalib
Right to Information is one of the fundamental rights enumerated in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973, the supreme law of the land. Right to information is basically the right of citizens to access information from the government and private bodies that receive public funds. Article 19A of the constitution states that every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law. This law was not part of the constitution until 2010. In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to receive information can be spelled out from “the freedom of expression” provision of the Constitution. After a decade passed, in 2007, the Constitutional Court held that “Access to information is the sine qua non of constitutional democracy. The public has the right to know everything that is done by the public functionaries”. Later on, in 2010, through the 18th amendment, an explicit provision was added in the constitution, guaranteeing the right to access information. Moreover, in 2017, an act called the Right of Access to Information Act was passed by the Majlis e Shoora (Parliament) to bring more transparency and access to information to ensure that the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have access to records held by public authorities and promote the purposes of making the Government more accountable to its people.  According to the novel legislation, a direction was issued to each public body to notify one or more designated officials within thirty days of the commencement of this act. The designated official of the respective public body shall be responsible for ensuring full compliance with the requests of citizens. Furthermore, where an applicant who is not satisfied by the decision of the designated official may prefer an appeal to the Information Commission, an independent and autonomous enforcement body, established under Section 18 of this Act, whose sole purpose is to ensure implementation of this Act. Statistically, the Commission has so far received a total of 682 appeals, out of which 257 have been resolved and the requested information has been provided to the appellants to their satisfaction. The remaining appeals are at various stages of resolution as notices have been issued and hearings are being conducted on these appeals three days of every week. Internationally, Pakistan has signed and ratified the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), but with several reservations, including one on Article 19, which says “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information”; However, later on, Pakistan withdrew the reservations. Pakistan has also signed and ratified the UNCAC (United Nations Convention against Corruption), whose purposes are to promote integrity, accountability, proper management of public affairs and public property. UNCAC binds the states to take the necessary steps to establish appropriate systems of procurement, based on transparency, competition and objective criteria in decision-making, that are effective, inter alia, in preventing corruption. So far, Pakistan, as a state, has strived for bringing more transparency, improved access to public records, making the governments more accountable to its people; Yet, the state needs to take strong endeavors for improving participation by the people in public affairs, for reducing corruption and inefficiency in governments, for promoting sound economic growth, good governance and respect for human rights.

(-The writer is a practicing lawyer at District Courts, Karachi. )

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