Islamabad — Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said the government will form the federal information commission soon and work to make the Right to Information (RTI) laws effective.
“I hope that we will implement (the federal and Punjab right to information laws) fully by the 28th,” Mr. Chaudhry said. “The commissioners of the RTI Act will take charge of their positions and the law will be made effective.”
He was speaking at an event organised by the Sustainable Social Development Organisation (SSDO) on Thursday in Islamabad to mark the International RIght to Know Day 2018.
Video clip showing Fawad Chaudhry’s statement. Courtesy SSDO.
The minister did not mention if he meant to say 28 September or October but this is the first indication by the new Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf government to operationalise the federal Right of Access to Information Act. The Act was passed by the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in October 2017 but it failed to set up the information commission and the law still lacks proper implementation a year later.
The information commission is a statutory body mandated by the law to promote the right to information, ensure its implementation, and receive citizen complaints about denial of access to information.
The PML-N government did, however, approve a summary to appoint three information commissioners just before the government’s five-year tenure ended in May. These commissioners are supposed to manage the affairs of the commission. But the caretaker government did not follow-up on the approval and did not notify the appointments in the official gazette to make the commission operational.
At the SSDO event, Mr. Chaudhry said an effective RTI law would mean that people will have access to information they need about their government. He claimed the previous government kept secret the details of the big contracts it awarded and when investigations were ordered, it was sometimes found out that the records had been destroyed in fire incidents.
“So such incidents mean where there is no openness or transparency, there is something wrong,” Mr. Chaudhry said. “It is evident that there is something wrong because why else would information be kept hidden.”
The federal minister also mentioned setting up the information commission and appointing information commissioners in Punjab. However, the Punjab Information Commission is already operational and its new commissioners, also appointed in May, have been working for around four months now.
In a separate comment on the sidelines of UNESCO’s event to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information on Thursday, an information ministry official told Media for Transparency that the ministry is processing a new summary for the appointment of officials to the federal information commission.
“My understanding is that the summary will be presented to the cabinet for approval within the next two weeks,” said Khizer Shah, the Director (Press) at the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Mr. Shah, who represented the information ministry at the UNESCO event, said he did not know if the three commissioner appointments made in May would be upheld or new names will be suggested for the positions.