October 12, 2011 - 6:12 am
The News , October 12, 2011
Sherry introduces Right to Information Bill in NA
ISLAMABAD: Sherry Rehman on Tuesday introduced the much-awaited Right to Information (RTI) bill in the National Assembly that was pending in the National Assembly Secretariat for two years.
The government did not oppose the private member’s bill and referred it to the concerned standing committee of the House for further deliberations. It will be interesting to see which standing committee it is referred to, as the scope of the bill is too wide and it proposes access of every citizen to any department of the government. It is likely that it might be referred to the standing committee on cabinet division as it deals with all the ministries.
Sherry Rehman while explaining the salient features of the bill said that it is being introduced to recognise and realise the right to information as a fundamental constitutional right and to make information available to the public in order to promote good and transparent governance. “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 and added that the bill will facilitate and encourage the disclosure of information for greater transparency, accountability and empowerment of citizens.
She said the bill would empower the public and citizens’ groups to monitor the operations of government and public and private bodies while promoting a culture of non-abusive, across the board accountability of governments.
She said it would restrict the exceptions where information may be protected from the public within reasonable grounds. “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.
Sherry Rehman said universally the right to information is described as ‘oxygen’ for democracy and the ‘touchstone’ for all freedoms. “This is because an effective law on right to information is widely considered a pre-requisite for combating corruption, ensuring transparency and promoting public accountability,” she added.
“Today, now that Article 19 of the Constitution has made the freedom of speech and expression a fundamental right of the citizens, access to information is being given as a right,” she added. According to the 18th Amendment Bill, after Article 19, the following new article shall be inserted, namely: 19A. Right to information: – Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation.”
The bill requires organisations to proactively publish their records of structure, budget and modus operandi. It further protection to the whistle-blowers, thus taking positive steps to encourage penalising the breach of the right to information. It restricts the exceptions where information may be protected from the public within clear grounds. It requires decisions not to grant information to an applicant explained clearly to him and to point out alternatives. The bill suggests the existence of a body that can monitor and provide guidance for the issuance of records to Public Information Officer.