Civil society opposes the move to exclude Parliament from the purview of the right to information

Islamabad: We, the civil society activists and organizations, take strong exception to the private member amendment bill moved by some senators with the purpose of excluding the Parliament from the purview of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. The amendment bill seeks to delete Section 2(ix)(c) of the Act which, if enacted, would mean that Parliament will no longer fall within the definition of public bodies that are required to share non-exempt information with citizens, either proactively or in response to their information requests.

We demand the chairperson and the members of the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting to reject the amendment bill in its meeting scheduled to be held on October 4, 2021, and instead consult civil society for developing recommendations towards strengthening of the existing Act in the light of regional and international best practice.

We would like to remind the members of the Parliament that the proposed amendment is not only inconsistent with the commitments made by all the major political parties in their election manifestos regarding transparent governance but also against the letter and spirit of Article 19- A of the Constitution, which provides that information should be accessible to citizens ‘in all matters of public importance’ and that only ‘reasonable restrictions’ can be imposed by law.

It is hard to imagine why Parliament should be excluded from the citizens’ right to information, despite the fact that it uses public funds and the authority vested in its offices by the people of Pakistan through their elected representatives. We believe that a Parliament which is not transparent in its functions would lose public trust and will never be able to exercise any moral authority over other government institutions in the process of requiring them to become transparent and accountable.

We also express our concern that some members of the Parliament thought it appropriate to move such a regressive and anti-people bill and the Senate considered it worthy enough for consideration in the Senate Committee on Information and Broadcasting. The argument that the Parliament performs sensitive functions and, therefore, its information must be exempt from disclosure is completely devoid of any merit, as the information whose disclosure may cause harm to any national or public interests is already exempt from disclosure.

The amendment bill has clearly been moved with malafide intensions to avoid public scrutiny in relations to matters that clearly involve public interest, for example, perks and privileges, procurements and appointments. An open letter has been issued and endorsements collated through the joint venture of Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) & Peace and Justice Network (PJN).

RAI Amendment Bill 2021

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