March 17: Regional Conference on Right to Information in South Asia, titled Understanding the Silent Revolution, concluded today with delegates from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal urging their governments to ensure widespread public awareness and effective implementation of RTI in the region.
Delegates from five countries were hosted at the two-day Regional Conference on RTI in South Asia, which was organised to enhance experience sharing and regional cooperation between leaders of various RTI movements 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.
Speaking on Opening Parliament to Citizens through RTI, Panel Chair, Ms. Aruna Roy, Founder Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, New Delhi, said that the link between legislators and the common people is central to a democracy. “Opening the activities of institutions such as Parliament as well as the performance of legislators themselves is a prerequisite to a modern democracy,” she said. Mr. Inayatullah Lak, Director General Parliamentary Affairs, Provincial Assembly of Punjab, apprised the participants of the measures that the Assembly Secretariat is taking to proactively disclose the activities of the provincial legislature, such as attendance of legislators, rules notified and video reports of the Assembly proceedings through their official website. Representing the Senate Secretariat, Ms. Rabeea Anwar, Joint Secretary Legislation, Senate of Pakistan said that in addition to the attendance of Senators, the attendance records of the Standing Committees of the Senate are also being proactively disclosed on the Senate website.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Krishna Hari Baskota, Chief Information Commissioner of Nepal spoke on the initiatives being taken by the National Information Commission of Nepal including a system of RTI audits. Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, Former Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commissioner of India, cited the example of extending the RTI Act in Kashmir, which came about through the efforts of civil society in 2009. He was of the view that extending the Act would strengthen the security of the state as citizens would be more likely to cooperate with the government.
Chief Information Commissioners, Sahibzada Muhamad Khalid from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Mr. Mazhar Hussain Minhas from Punjab, were co-hosts alongside PILDAT at the Conference.
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.