January 27: Speakers and participants at a two-day Briefing for Pakistani Academia on the State of Right to Information (RTI) and its Implementation agreed that RTI needs to be studied as an academic subject and included in the curricula of Universities and Government Training Institutes across Pakistan. They also agreed that effective implementation of RTI was necessary to improve responsiveness, accountability and transparency within government.
In a session on “Effective Implementation of RTI: Experiences from across the border”, distinguished speakers from India provided details on the extent to which RTI was being implemented effectively and being used by the public to access rights and social services. Ms. Anjali Bhardwaj, Co-convener, National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information, said that 4-6 million RTI applications were being filed in India every year due to tremendous demand for public information and government accountability at the grassroots level.
Speakers from KP and Punjab also apprised the audience of the progress in implementing RTI provisions within government and the impact this had on governance within both Provinces. Mr. Mohsin Abbas, Managing Director, Punjab Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA), said that RTI had changed the nature of governance and citizen-state relations in both developed and developing countries. He also explained the importance of the PPRA’s initiatives in making government procurement open to public scrutiny and eliminating corruption in the implementation of government contracts. Mr. Shehryar Memon, Deputy Secretary, KP Reform and Implementation Cell, while speaking of the KP Government’s initiative in making data on its performance public, was of the view that effective implementation of RTI was a major reason for improved governance within the Province.
Mr. Mazhar Hussain Minhas, Chief Information Commissioner of Punjab felt that the performance of the Punjab Information Commission in ensuring proper implementation of RTI was being hampered due to lack of financial support and cooperation from the Punjab Government. In this regard, he spoke of delays in the release of the Commission’s Budget and appointment of Commission staff against sanctioned positions in the Budget.
Professor Kalimullah, KP Information Commissioner apprised the audience of the KP RTI Commission’s initiative to launch toll-free helplines and an online web portal to aid the public in accessing information under RTI. He added that the Commission’s campaign to improve public awareness of RTI, especially in rural areas, was gradually making public use of the RTI Act more diverse and widespread.
Over 60 academicians from Islamabad, Lahore, Multan and Peshawar participated in the Briefings, which were organised to generate informed debate on how to improve implementation of RTI in Pakistan at both Federal and Provincial levels. Participants also included Faculty from Kinnaird College for Women , International Islamic University Islamabad, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Institute of Management Sciences, Peshawar, Forman Christian College, Quaid-e-Azam University, National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Bahria University, Beaconhouse National University, University of Punjab as well as the Directing Staff of the National School of Public Policy and the Management and Professional Development Department, Lahore, and the National Institute of Management, Islamabad.
The Briefings to Pakistani Academia on the State of Right to Information and its Implementation was organised by PILDAT under the More effective Right-To-Information (RTI) at Federal and Provincial level (Sindh and Punjab) Project, for which it has received financial support from Development Alternative Inc. (DAI) under the Enhanced Democratic Accountability and Civic Engagement (EDACE) Project.
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