The Sindh Assembly’s unanimous decision to pass the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Bill 2016, makes it the third province in the country to do so after KPK and Punjab, and must be commended. It is positive that provincial governments have been following each other to pass a law that is necessary to protect an intrinsic right of the people; the right to information.

One of the primary clauses mentioned in the bill is the formation of the Sindh Information Commission, an independent body (in principle) for the regulation of the new system of requests for information and potential complaints. The government must designate an officer to respond to the queries of those requesting information, after which a response must be given within a 45-day deadline. There are also provisions for punishments in case any assigned officers deny the request for information – this is important in preventing various government departments from hiding their unscrupulous dealings under the guise of national interests or other excuses.

It is important to remember exactly why the individual’s right to information is so important – under the social contract, the individual is giving up certain liberties in exchange for protection and the provision of certain services by the state. The state in turn, is given the power to govern and to use violence as a coercive tool when necessary. However, protecting the ability of citizens to question the government, and to demand information to keep accountability in place is fundamental to the whole process. If the people cannot keep a check on the government’s activities, the state can do what it wants, when it wants, and this must not be allowed to happen.

While concerns for implementation still exist in the three provinces that have enacted the law, this is progress, and for that, the provincial governments must be congratulated. One can only hope that the Sindh government’s new law results in keeping a more transparent check on the government, to counter the numerous allegations of corruption, nepotism and the double-dealing attitude of the PPP government we have all become so well-acquainted with.

Granting this right to the people however, was only the first step in a series of actions the government must take in allowing for greater accountability. Will the Sindh Information Commission be formed on the basis of merit or nepotism? Will the officers in charge be diligent in their duties and ensure the timely handling of requests? Will the people actually benefit from a law that essentially limits the power of government employees in the interest of avoiding corruption? Only time can tell.