The federal government’s effort to fix legislation on the citizen’s right to information is likely to end up making things worse. The original law, the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, infringed on the inalienable right to information rather than grant it. Apart from an extensive ‘exemption list’, any information that was potentially harmful to law enforcement institutions, or to the national security or foreign policy aspirations of the country was not made available to the public.

The government’s fix, the Right of Access to Information Bill 2016 is only exacerbating the issue, and curbing the right even further. Apart from all the restrictions mentioned above, the government is now also looking to grant itself the veto power over which information to disclose.

The only clause that has even the semblance of one that could assist in the provision of information to the public, is the inclusion of an Information Commission, which would take up complaints against public institutions not willing to share information. The problem is that the government will decide who gets to be on this commission, which throws the principle of autonomy out the window.

The ruling party is currently working only on taglines, to win plaudits for enacting a human rights law, even though civil society organisations (CSOs) can see right through this. The Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI), a consortium of 48 CSOs, has termed the law so “ineffective and structurally flawed that it cannot be improved.”

The Senate already approved a better version of this bill, the Right to Information (RTI) Bill 2016, so why is the centre insisting on passing the flawed one? The good news is that the Senate looks set to reject this version of the law.

Article 19 of the Pakistani Constitution expressly grants the right to information to each and every citizen, and the principle behind this is for the government to be accountable to its people. The government must respect this and enact the version that actually adheres to this, instead of enacting a toothless law to protect itself from public criticism.