ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is an ‘if’ away from grabbing the top global ranking as it can proudly claim to have the best Right to Information (RTI) legislation in the world to promote transparency if the draft RTI Act 2014 is passed into law from parliament.
The Canada-based Center for Law and Democracy (CLD) that does international ranking of the RTI laws in different countries has examined the draft Act to conclude that it will be the best law in the world pushing Pakistan atop in the country-wise ranking from the bottom position allocated due to the existing Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 introduced by former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.
“This is a remarkable draft RTI law,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “It would be wonderful if the Government of Pakistan were to pass such a strong law and we would then be very happy to work with them and other stakeholders to support implementation.”
Once done, it will be yet another feather in the cap of the PML-N government that earlier made tax data public making Pakistan as the fourth country in the world to do so after Norway, Sweden and Finland.
The parliamentary opposition equally shares the credit for improving the draft RTI Act as it has been approved by the Senate’s sub-committee headed by Senator Farhatullah Babar.The draft Act will replace the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 promulgated by Pervez Musharraf. Being a weak RTI legislation, the ordinance had garnered only 66 out of 150 on the rating of CLD, an internationally recognised methodology for assessing the strength of legal framework of RTI. It compared the ordinance’s rating with the one earned by the newly-drafted RTI Act 2014 by CLD: 146/150.
“A draft Right to Information Act prepared by the Government of Pakistan has scored an astonishing 146 points on the RTI rating, which would put it 11 points ahead of the next best right to information law in the world, namely that of Serbia (which has 135 points),” reads an official note of the CLD.
Civil society activists that have long been advocating for an effective RTI law have greeted this development with guarded optimism. “The PML-N government has always made tall claims about good governance but the enactment of this draft bill will be a tangible proof of translating rhetoric into reality,” said Zahid Abdullah, coordinator for the coalition on RTI.
This ranking is the best penalty corner, said Zafrullah Khan, the executive director of Center for Civic Education. “Now parliament and the government should convert it into meaningful goal,” he concluded.
Although, the CLD has given the draft Act the highest ranking that is conditional with the enactment, it has also highlighted areas needing an improvement.The Section 29 (3) (a) of the draft, for instance, says that one of the three members of the information commission will be either a judge or a senior civil servant.
The CLD has cautioned against having civil servants as the commission’s member.“It is preferable to avoid having civil servants on such a commission, especially when there are only three members.
While they do have the advantage of understanding the civil service well, experience in other countries suggests that civil servants as commissioners are often unduly sympathetic to claims by civil servants that information is secret, which is often what appeals revolve around,” argues the CLD.
Likewise, Section 29 (3) (b) requires the civil society representation in the commission to be ‘respected’ but there is no mention of his/her qualification.“Better practice is to require individuals to have expertise which is relevant to the position before they may be appointed as commissioners,” the CLD recommends.