LAHORE - Speakers at an interactive session on Monday pinpointed flaws in the recently introduced Transparency and Access to Information Ordinance 2013 and stressed the need for putting it before the public for debate.

The speakers however appreciated the Punjab government for meeting the long standing demand of the people which they have been raising to get first hand information about good governance, transparency and merit in the provincial departments.

Presided over by the Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah the session was organised by Press Council of Pakistan. Among the speakers included Chairman of the Council, Raja Shafqat Khan Abbasi, Editor Business Recorder Wamiq A Zuberi, Dean and Professor Superior University Prof Dr Mugheesud Din Sheikh, HRCP Secretary General IA Rahman Coordinator on Right to Information Zahid Abdullah, Founding Director, CPDI, Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Nasir Zaidi of PFUJ, and Fasih Iqbal from Balochistan.

Majority of the speakers said the ordinance had been brought to light after brainstorming of months with a view to providing maximum disclosure to the public about performance, spending and general functioning of the departments. Yet they said, the information commission envisaged in the law to sift and siphon the complaints and applications of the public to the department has not be given requisite independence of finances and is powerless to take action if this body did not receive information from the department concerned. Hence, more than the commission, the power was in the hand of the bureaucracy.

They said the members of the commission should necessarily be three in number and the procedure of their selection should be clear on the pattern in the same Law introduced by the Khyber PK government. They also found a weak mechanism for the implementation of the Ordinance and that no protection and job security was ensured to the person providing information. They also laid stress on educating and training the people on how they could make best use of the Law. Rana Sanaullah said the government could have got the law carried by the Punjab Assembly in a week but it first introduced it as an Ordinance so that public opinion could be elicited on its good and bad aspects and then the same presented before the Standing Committee of the Assembly as a bill.

He said it was a democratic right of every citizen to know about the governance as such the government wants to bring it in the best form. He said anyone with good suggestion would be welcomed in the committee.  The minister said the present government in true sense of word respects freedom of press as well freedom of information which in the present ‘global village’ is very conducive to running the government on fair and transparent lines as well as to eliminate corruption in the public departments and bring their fair play.

Raja Shafqat Abbasi said the information law was demand of his Council since 2002 and in 2011 it had also carried resolutions. He said without Access to information law, the functioning of the Press Council was also not up to the required pace. He said the purpose of democracy of would be well served if the people get information on the government functioning and to make to the department perform in the best interest of the public. He appreciated that the Punjab law is batter than the one introduced by the Sindh government however he wanted improvement in the former.

Dr Mughees laid stress on a simple and understandable procedure to help people adequately get the required information wherein he added, lay the true implementation of the law. He also proposed for holding a joint debate of the cross section of society and the stakeholders to fine tune the law.  He said for effective implementation of the Access of Information law, private sector might have served a better purpose of bringing transparency due to the image of an independent body which tends to provide information without harbouring any outside considerations.