LAHORE - Speakers at the Hameed Nizami Press Institute of Pakistan (HNPIP) seminar on ‘Access to Information for Responsible Governance’ on Saturday said that without ensuring right to information the concept of good governance would remain a dream.

Former LHC judge  Shaikh Ahmad Farooq presided over while Chief Information Commissioner Mehboob Qadir Shah was the key note speaker. Other guest speakers included former state minister Qayyum Nizami, Information Commissioners Hasan Iqbal and Saeed Akhtar Ansari and Cyber legal arm president Almas Ali Jovinda. HNPIP Director Absar Abdul Ali was the moderator. Senior lawyers Ihtsham Qadir and Nasim  Bajwa were also present.

The speakers stressed that right to information and corruption could not move together. “Only corrupt officers discourage provision of information using different tactics.” Justice (r) Shaikh Ahmad Farooq said that the concept of responsible governance was a process of decision making and its implementation in public interest. “Without information you cannot deliver,” he held.

He said that information was evidence that provides basis for justice.  “The one who hides information he practices something wrong. Article 19 A stressed right to information in18th amendment,” he said, adding that the best law does not mean it delivered too.

He said: “We work in personal rather public interest.”  Talking about other reasons behind lack of good governance, he said right man was not holing right job everywhere including judiciary, executive and political tiers.

The chief information commissioner said that the commission had civil court powers. “We hear about two dozen cases daily. RTI would end dictatorial mindset and institutionalised democracy. Sweden started RTI during last century. Taxpayer is the owner of information for transparency,” he added. 

He also quoted the Holy Quran that too stressed importance of knowledge. Most developed countries, he said, were those that promoted information.

Almas Jovinda said that till we put all information online good government would be a dream. During last government information was withheld and hided but back in far past development expenses were duly displayed.

Two crore RTI requests had been registered in India.5000 daily. The PM said all information be available online. Only two federal ministry are online including info and investment. There are Dept’s that lack website. Official discouraged information. However undue application should be discouraged. We want review of judicial proceedings.

Qayyum Nizami said that M A Jinnah had addressed to officers saying that they were servants not rulers. Unluckily, we are still living in colonial era. Jinnah and Iqbal both had emphasized to practice Islamic ideologies.

When Churchill during WW2 was leading the UK, police arrested a man who had claimed Churchill was a fool. Opposition cried on the issue saying Churchill had converted the country into a police stated. Churchill said that actually the man had disclosed the state secret that “Churchill was a fool”.

He said that all laws are being drafted in English which are problematic for common citizens. Provision of basic facilities reflect the good governance. He said that electoral system supports rascals and in past a smuggler had defeated Malik Meraj Khalid. He said that after the 18th amendment empowerment of provinces they should practice RTI. If the CJP wanted record on money laundering was not provided what about a common man’s plea on it. He said that generations have been destroyed. We should focus new generation in primary schools to practice law and morality.

Former federal secretary Hasan Iqbal said that we want awareness of our mission. We want the support from all segments of society. He confessed that it was impossible to get information from government offices. He said hiding information is officers mindset. He said that officers used to practice it in past. Some officers, he stated, discouraged provision of information. He also explained how to get information from different departments.

Every department should public information, he held adding it is not prerogative of a PIO to say that it was a secret. More than 50 years information can’t be withheld, he held. Commission may award punishment and fine up to 50,000 and recommend criminal proceedings against the officers blocking flow of information.

PIC he said would conduct seminars at district level. He said that the LHC disclosed information on RTI request on the salary and other perks of judges. The same was disclosed by the Chief Information Commission (CIC). He said that the RTI was a fight between corruption and information which can’t go together.

Absar Abdul Ali said without implementation of Urdu it would be possible to ensure transparency.

Saeed Ansari said all segments of society were flag bearer of law. The democracy would be withheld without RTI. It is a pillar to rule of law. Only two provinces practice it and even federal government could not establish a CIC office thus there is no binding on the federal government bodies to provide information. He also stressed that no department could question from petitioner why he needed information.