Cabinet blamed for delaying RTI legislation

ISLAMABAD: Civil society activists on Wednesday alleged that the federal cabinet lacked the political will to approve the right to information (RTI) bill, which was a main hurdle to its legislation.

They were speaking at a conference titled: ‘Pakistan’s RTI Legislation Regime: Learning from Provincial Legislative Experiences’. The conference was organised by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), a non-governmental organization, at a local hotel.

Promulgation of the Right to Information Act 2005 in India encouraged the rights activists here to start their struggle for a similar law in Pakistan. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assembly took the lead by passing the KP RTI Act 2013, followed by the Punjab government which introduced the Punjab Transparency and RTI Act 2013.

Since then the civil society has been making efforts to have right to information law at national level but the cabinet is sitting on the bill, though it has been on its agenda for the last 15 months.

Bill has been on cabinet’s agenda for the last 15 years

Head of Centre of Civic Education Mr Zafarullah Khan said the bill should be passed as soon as possible but unfortunately it was not on the priorities of the government. “Although legislation is a time consuming process, but civil society should keep pushing the politicians to pass the bill,” he said.

Aftab Alam, head of a non-governmental organisation Irada, said he was not sure if the RTI bill would ever become the law of the land and the struggle of the civil society would ever become fruitful.

“Even if RTI bill is passed, the Cybercrime Bill will make the RTI Law dysfunctional. Government officials will stop giving any information and journalists will not be able to file any story,” he said.

Executive Director CPDI Amer Ejaz said that opposition’s private member bills were usually never passed.

“It is the reason that the bill came on the agenda of the cabinet meeting but was not taken up. Moreover, I can surely say that Cybercrime Bill is drafted by a person who has never used internet,” he said.

Program Manager Transparency and Right to Information at CPDI Zahid Abdullah while talking to Dawn alleged that the cabinet lacked the will to approve the bill which had been lying with it for the last over one year.

“Minister for Information Senator Pervaiz Rasheed always says the bill will be approved in next meeting but the bill cannot draw the attention of the cabinet,” he said.

While replying to a question, Mr Abdullah said that the number of agenda items in the cabinet meeting did not matter. The thing which counts is the political will which the cabinet lacked, he said.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2015

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