PILDAT Regional Conference on Right to Information in South Asia begins

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  • South Asian States face similar challenges in Right to Information
  • RTI Laws alone will not ensure transparency; public interest and use of the law is crucial
  • Pakistan’s Federal Freedom of Information Ordinance ranks 84th in the world: International Rating Agency, Centre for Law and Democracy Canada
  • Pakistan’s Federal Government should take leadership and pass new RTI Law
  • South Asian States need to learn from each other on effective RTI practices
  • RTI Movement needs to penetrate to the grass roots level and ensure good governance
  • Role of Media Crucial in popularizing RTI Laws

March 16; at the first PILDAT Regional Conference on Right to Information in South Asia beginning today, delegates from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, while sharing status of implementation of RTI regimes in the region, agreed that South Asian states face somewhat similar challenges in promulgation of RTI regimes.

Experts believed that in the South Asian region, RTI laws alone will not ensure transparency but public interest and use of the law is crucial. They believed that there is great merit in South Asian States learning from good practices among each other on effective RTI practices. There was also an agreement that the RTI movement needs to penetrate to the grass roots level and ensure good governance and that the role of Media Crucial is crucial in popularizing RTI Laws and their usage in societies.

In discussing the state of RTI law in Pakistan, it was shared that Pakistan’s existing Federal Freedom of Information Ordinance ranks 84th in the world according to the International Rating Agency, Centre for Law and Democracy Canada. Pakistani experts, MPs and participants urged Pakistan’s Federal Government to take leadership and pass the new RTI Law.

Participants came together to share their experiences in strengthening RTI within their home countries, and enhance regional cooperation for the continued success of such local efforts in the future.

Speaking on Protecting and Disclosing Sensitive Information under RTI, Panel Chair, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, Chairperson, Senate Standing Committee on Defence, urged the Federal Government to not to further delay the passage of the internationally-acclaimed Right to Information Bill, 2014 on account of concerns for the security of sensitive information on defence and foreign relations. The Bill was approved by the Senate on July 15, 2014 but is still waiting to be tabled in the National Assembly.

Former Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Mr. Tasneem Noorani, added that the second level of resistance to RTI might be the Government officials who may not wholeheartedly accept that the intricacies of their activities need be open to public scrutiny. Mr. Aamir Latif, Bureau Chief, Online News Network, Karachi said that an effective and comprehensive RTI law serves to enhance national security rather than undermine it. Proactive and frequent disclosure of government information strengthens the writ of the state and ensures that the citizenry is fully invested in the government. Dr. Jaymapathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel and MP, Parliament of Sri Lanka, presented the Sri Lankan Draft RTI Bill that has been ranked the 7th best in the world at the Conference.  He said that the Sri Lankan RTI Bill has been drafted as such that it cannot be trumped in emergencies declared by the government. It can only be overridden through an amendment in the law.

Day 1 of the Regional Conference included 3 Panel Discussion in which nationally and internationally renowned speakers discussed Regional Conference themes, both among themselves and with the wider public. ,
Later, the Chair of the session on Civil Society and Media in the RTI Movement, Mr. Nikhil Dey, Founding Member, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan, urged civil society and the media to highlight the potential uses of RTI in the public by utilising it in the course of their work. He cited the example of the 10,000 RTI applications that the MKSS has helped ordinary citizens lodge in the state of Rajasthan in the ‘’Jawabdehi Yatra’.

Ms. Aruna Roy, Founding Member MKSS, also spoke on the link between RTI and improved delivery of social services as well as reduced corruption, saying that governance is most effective when it is a participatory affair.

In the inaugural session on Overviewing the Right to Information in South Asia and the World, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President, PILDAT, said that the future of RTI in the South Asian would be bright if relevant stakeholders convened to discuss shared issues and concerns on a regular basis through forums such as the Regional Conference organised by PILDAT.

Dr. Jagdeep Chhokar, Association for Democratic Reform, India; Mr. Taranath Dahal, Chairman, Freedom Forum, Nepal, Mr. Luwie Ganeshathan, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sri Lanka and Mr. Michael Karnaicholas, Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada, apprised the participants of the evolution and progress of RTI movements in their respective countries.

Chief Information Commissioners, Sahibzada Muhamad Khalid from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Mr. Mazhar Hussain Minhas from Punjab, were co-hosts alongside PILDAT at the Conference.

PILDAT is hosting delegates from five countries in the two-day Regional Conference on RTI in South Asia. Ms. Aruna Roy, Founder, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, India, Mr. Nikhil Dey, Founder, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Professor Jagdeep S. Chhokar, Founder, Association for Democratic Reform and Mr. Wajahat HabibUllah Former Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission are representing India. Dr. Jayampathe Wickramarthne, President’s Council, Member of Parliament, Parliament of Sri Lanka and Mr. Luwie Ganeshthasan, Researcher ,Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) are representing Sri Lanka. Nepal is being represented by Mr. Krishna Hari Baskota, Chief Information Commissioner, National Information Commission, Mr. Tanka Raj Aryal, Executive Director, Citizen’s Campaign for Right to Information, and Mr. Taranath Dahal, Chairman Freedom Forum, Nepal. Bangladesh is represented by Ms. Ruhi Naz, Project Coordinator, Research Initiatives, Bangladesh and Ms. Tahmina Rehman, Regional Director, Article 19, South Asia.

The Regional Conference on RTI has been organised by PILDAT, in collaboration with the Punjab Information Commission and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Commission under the More Effective Right-To-Information at Federal and Provincial (Sindh and Punjab) levels project, for which it has received financial support from the Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) under the Enhanced Democratic Accountability and Civic Engagement project.


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