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December 17, 2018
MULTIMEDIA

New Federal Information Commission to Focus on Maximum Access, RTI Awareness: Zahid Abdullah

Islamabad — The Federal Information Commission will work to solve the complaints of citizens regarding the implementation of Right to Information (RTI) law and will encourage government departments to proactively disclose useful information to the public, Zahid Abdullah told Media for Transparency.

Mr. Abdullah is one of the three newly-appointed information commissioners for the Federal Information Commission recently set up by the government. The commission is the statutory appellate body for the federal Right of Access to Information Act passed in October 2017. The law was passed in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz tenure, but the ruling party failed to operationalise its implementation. The commission has now been formed by the current Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf government.

Mr. Abdullah, a veteran RTI advocate and human rights activist, said the federal government is expected to allocate a budget for the commission soon, which will allow it to hire staff and commence its operations. He said things will take time, but he hoped the commission will work on several fronts in parallel.

“There is a trust deficit between the people and government organisations,” Mr. Abdullah said. “I am joining the commission with this mindset that citizens be given maximum access to information in the easiest way so that these gaps can be filled.”

The RTI law allows citizens to request federal government ministries and departments for information such as annual spending and performance statistics. Citizens can appeal to the Federal Information Commission for support if the departments do not provide the required information.

Former information secretary Muhammad Azam and advocate Fawad Malik are the two other members in the commission, according to government notifications. Mr. Azam will serve as the Chief Information Commissioner. The three commissioners will serve for a period of four years, as per the government notification.

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A government notification announcing the appointments of Mr. Zahid Abdullah and Mr. Fawad Malik as information commissioners. Source: SSDO

Awareness about the utility of the RTI law also seems to be an important objective of the new commission.

“Awareness is a big challenge when it comes to this (RTI law), and it is needed on both sides,” Mr. Abdullah said. “Citizens do not know how to use this right; they don’t know they have been granted this right. On the other hand, we need to tell government officials that giving information to the citizens is now their obligation.”

Mr. Abdullah’s appointment has been well-received by the civil society and RTI advocates. He is reportedly the only person with visual impairment to be appointed an information commissioner in the world. Mr. Abdullah told Media for Transparency he lost his eye-sight in 2001 when he was 31. He said he thinks people’s awareness about disability might also improve now that the government has given him an opportunity to serve the public.

“Usually people think that if some body part is not working, it makes you disabled but we, the differently-abled people, think that it is the attitudes which hinder and make people disabled,” Mr. Abdullah said. “These attitudes need to be changed.”

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Zahid Abdullah, new information commissioner for the Federal Information Commission

He said if differently abled people are given the right environment, they will not remain disabled and can contribute equally to the society. Mr. Abdullah, who has worked in the development sector since 2014, said he has advocated for the rights of the differently-abled persons but when it comes to RTI, he said other human rights are connected with it.

“If you are not informed, you will not be able to get your other rights,” Mr. Abdullah said.

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