The Right to Information

By: Aiman Raza Abbasi - Legislative Intern SSDO

The Right to Information Act was established to make the government accountable for its work by empowering citizens to demand information regarding its activities. In October 2002, President Musharraf promulgated the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 (FOI Ordinance), largely at the initiative of the Asian Development Bank.

In July 2012, the senate mandated a committee to elaborate a comprehensive access to information law and a very strong draft of a new RTI bill was developed. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a "public authority" (a body of Government or "instrumentality of State") which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to pro-actively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

What information are we talking about?

The FOI Ordinance allows any citizen of Pakistan access to official records held by a public body of the federal government. The Ordinance only applies to the federal government including ministries, departments, boards, councils, courts and tribunals and the secretariat of parliament. It does not cover provincial or local government or any private bodies funded by the government or providing public services. There is some ambiguity about what information is accessible. The Ordinance allows access to “official records,” where a record is defined as a record in any form that is used for official purposes of the body that holds it. The Ordinance also defines what public records are and which records cannot be considered as public records, such as noting on files; minutes of meetings; preparatory opinions and recommendations, individuals’ bank account records; defense forces and national security; classified information; personal privacy; documents given in confidence; and other records decreed by the government.

The RTI aims to allow citizens to ask for records, documents, circulars, contracts, reports, papers, emails, memos and all other information held in print or electronic form from the public authorities, i.e. all the governing bodies. There are certain sections of administrative activities that are exempt from the RTI Act.

The RTI also empowers citizens to physically inspect the records that have been duly maintained by the government and its administrative bodies.