The Right of Access to Information Bill 2017, which was first presented in the upper house of the parliament back in May, was unanimously adopted by the Senate on Tuesday. It is being speculated that if this bill is adopted by the National Assembly (NA) and signed by the President, it would make access to information for the public and media houses significantly easier.

What this bill entails are clauses ensuring that accurate information is passed off to the public. A government official would be designated for the task, and any citizen can ask for access to information. The official is supposed to respond within 10 days, and this duration can only be extended for a further 10 days in case more inquiry is required. In cases of protection of life and liberty, the information needs to be provided within three working days. The bill also allows individuals to file an appeal within 30 days if they are not satisfied with the information provided.

Information will not be accessible in cases of matters concerning national security, privacy of someone’s home and family records, and friendly relations with countries. While the bill is being lauded by parliamentarians and Marriyam Aurangzeb (Information Minister) for PML-N allowing space for such amendments; there are certain key factors that must be considered.

The idea is key in improving the accountability in the system and also for increasing transparency in matters. However, when bills are proposed without the involvement of journalists, civil society groups, and right to information experts, it is likely to not change the inflow of information. The Coalition on Right to Information (CRI) has pointed out the similarities between the Freedom of Information Ordinance (2002) and Access to Information Bill (2017). Both do not outline list of exempted information. When they categorise generally, this allows space for a lot of information to be kept under the rug. When people have a precise list of information that can be asked for, it is easier to monitor the discrepancies in matters.

This bill, using fancier words in the garb of access to information, will only allow exploitation of the consumer due to lack of information. It will encourage implicit decision making in government bodies to be later justified as a national security matter, and journalists will keep on relying on exclusive sources who might not reveal stories at the right time. And all of this will delay any sort of action that can be taken to prevent harm to the country and its people.

Even within the region, countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India are doing way better in terms of access to information, whereas our leaders are more focused on keeping the masses disillusioned by using vague words.