Civil society groups are highly critical of the Rights of Access to Information Bill 2017. It was presented in the Senate this week and has since then been termed redundant by various activists.

Previously, the Freedom of Information Ordinance was in place since 2002. Even though it is implemented in around 90 countries and promises to ensure transparency, good governance, accountability, and eradication of corruption; the clauses of the ordinance do not ensure disclosure of information if it is in the public interest. The legal requirement is that there should be a list of exempted information and the rest should be made public. However, very rarely have we seen instances of disclosure of information to the public.

The result of this is that the populace suffers; especially in a consumer economy. When consumers have access to legitimate information, they can hold people accountable and bring them before the court of law if any irregularities are found. However, since that does not happen; corporate accountability is not very well understood in the country.

At the same time, when the government is known for making decisions not always open to public scrutiny, access to information helps people understand the dynamics better and also proves that the actions being taken are in the favour of the general public.

It also affects the media industry in the country. Journalists are to gather news and are to act in the best interest of the population. When they do not have access to information, they have to rely on exclusive sources. And it is not often that the news is reported at the desired time; which means that the damage is already done by the time a story is revealed to the public.

The new bill being proposed is more or less the same as the previous one. It still does not empower public bodies within the system to disclose information that is in the best interest of the public. What is being proposed right now needs to be amended, so that the people can actually benefit and get information at the right time.

Countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka already have a very progressive access to information act. What the government is proposing for Pakistan is weak, and will not change much for the public. The government claims that the system will become more transparent after the implementation of the act but such claims are redundant in the current situation, unless effective policies are adopted.a