According to the UN Charter, to which Pakistan is a signatory, every citizen

has the Right to Information (RTI) and is meant to improve governance and transparency, as it allows citizens to ask for information as their right, just as every citizen has the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.

It is meant to make the Government more effective in delivering social and economic public services, which require constant monitoring and attention and to eliminate corruption and establish accountability of government actions through the enforcement of the Rule of Law. To facilitate this law, the Government of Pakistan had established the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, during Gen. Musharraf’s time, in order to ensure transparency in government and to hold the federal and provincial governments more accountable.  Under the FOI law, any citizen can seek any information or record from any public body, except for information categorized as ‘exempt from disclosure’. The Law also provides a grievance redressal mechanism for those who are denied information:

‘In case the designated officer of a public body fails to provide the requested information/record within 21 days, the requester may, in terms of Section 19 of the Ordinance, file a complaint with the head of the public body, who shall dispose of the complaint within 30 days of its receipt’.

‘In case the competent authority fails to redress the grievance of the requester, then the requester may file a complaint with the Wafaqi Mohtasib”.

To sensitize this issue, Shehri, the NGO for a better life, has been organizing workshops and seminars, with the objective to inform citizens on how it has used the FOI as an effective tool to obtain information from stubborn and non-cooperative government departments. This information has enabled them to file various petitions against illegal buildings and land convertions in the Supreme and the Sindh High Court.  The seminars also provide detailed presentations on how citizens can demand information from the various departments and offered assistance to them in this matter, but unfortunately, the procedure is very cumbersome and requires a lot of patience and determination.  In contrast, the Indian Right to Information (RTI), is much more comprehensive and powerful and is rated as one of the best RTI laws in the world. It came into force on 12 October 2005 and states:

‘WHEREAS democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed’.  Through the above site, an ordinary citizen can easily track the progress of his or her individual complaint, just like the tracking facility being provided by TCS to its consumers, for tracing their individual documents.  The RTI law has become a great tool for the citizens of India, to strengthen democracy and good governance and as an instrument to demand their ‘right to information’.

They take an active part in holding their government accountable and have taken full advantage of their RTI law. This has made the government of India fully answerable to them.

A song relating to Janane Ka Haq  is posted on HT facebook and can be viewed by clicking on the link below. 

The RTI law, combined with the Indian Bureau of Investigation, an autonomous and committed organization, together with Judicial Activism and concerned citizens, have collectively put the Indian government, parliamentarians and the business community under the microscope.  Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we lack all the above three and the citizens are either unaware or bothered to use The FOI to their advantage, as many of the problems that we face are linked to lack of access to information.  If FOI law was enforced in letter and in spirit, then the Supreme Court would not be accused of overstepping its mandate and wasting its precious time on petty issues and could be able to play its constitutional role and focus on monitoring the blatant abuse and misuse of power by even the present government.

The strict enforcement of the law would allow ordinary citizens to bell the ‘Fat Cats’ that smugly sit in our parliament and at the same time, there would be no need for persons like Julian Assange, William Binney and the investigative teams of the media and their Wicked Wiki Leaks.

The proper use of FOI would also enable citizens to have access to the Commission reports that the government is so fond of establishing and other vital information relating to governance.

Keeping the FOI in mind, Helpline Trust had tried to use the FOI to extract a copy of the original Privatization Agreement and subsequent amendments, between NEPRA, KESC and the Abraaj Group.

However, as per past practice, all these departments have been stonewalling us and refusing to provide us the necessary information, which under the FOI Ordinance Law, is a public document and our constitutional right.

But then, in this land of the Pak and the Pure, Constitutional and Rights of the Citizens Rights and Respect for the Law, are not the done thing and the chances are that our request will continue to be stonewalled and the scammers and the con artists will continue to rip us off and get away with it.  

However, the media has been busy in ‘EXPOSING’ corruption, the embezzlement of funds and the misuse and abuse of our trust by army generals and parliamentarians.  According to inside information, the power crisis had been ‘engineered’ by vested interests to destabilize and embarrass the past government and to promote these RPPs.  How much of these accusations and counter allegations are myth or reality, only time will tell, but for the record, KESC load shedding in Defence and Clifton has come to an abrupt, but welcome end, as if a magician has waved his Magic Wand and sprinkled red-hot chili peppers on the management of KESC.

The citizens have elected a party, which they hope would be capable of enforcing the Rule of Law and establish accountability without fear or favor, but unfortunately, it seems that PML-N and PTI, who claim to be champions of transparency and accountability, are having second thoughts and do not seem to be interested in making the FOI law effective.

  n The writer can be reached at