In 2010, the insertion of Article 19A in the Constitution, through the 18th Amendment, marked a milestone for transparency and accountability, establishing access to information as a constitutional right in Pakistan.

However, the journey towards an effective Right to Information (RTI) framework has been marked by challenges and gaps that need urgent attention.

Pakistan’s RTI Evolution: A Mixed Journey

While Pakistan became the first South Asian country to adopt a Freedom of Information (FOI) law in 2002, it was primarily tied to conditions set by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and lacked the foundational principles necessary for transparency and accountability.

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The subsequent years saw progress with the provinces enacting their right-to-information laws, but implementation hurdles persist.

Addressing Ambiguities in Federal Legislation

Despite the federal RTI Act of 2017 and equivalent provincial laws, ambiguity persists. Public officials, including constitutional institutions like the Supreme Court, resist disclosure, claiming the Act doesn’t apply to bodies established under the Constitution. Clearer definitions, and mirroring international practices, are needed to address this issue and enhance inclusivity.

Loopholes Leading to Legal Battles

Loopholes and inconsistencies in the federal Act have led to 73 orders from the Pakistan Information Commission being challenged in high courts. Instances, like the Senate resisting information disclosure, highlight the need for legislative clarity.

Amendments to explicitly include bodies under the Constitution as public bodies and revisiting contentious sections can streamline the process.

Provincial RTI Laws: A Need for Refinement

Examining provincial laws reveals areas for improvement. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the definition of public bodies could be expanded to include the Peshawar High Court. Additionally, empowering the KP Information Commission to initiate contempt proceedings would strengthen enforcement.

In Punjab, amendments ensuring balanced commissioner appointments and addressing retrogressive changes can enhance effectiveness.

Sindh: Typographical Fixes and Inclusive Appointments

Sindh’s RTI Act requires typographical fixes and amendments to ensure inclusivity in the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner. Addressing age restrictions on commission members can prevent premature exits, ensuring continuity in decision-making.

Balochistan: Overcoming Flaws for Inclusive Access

Balochistan’s RTI Act 2021 suffers from multiple flaws, including excluding the superior judiciary and burdensome requirements for information requests. Amendments to cover higher courts and eliminate unnecessary documentation can create a more accessible and citizen-friendly framework.

Implementation Challenges and the Way Forward

Implementation hurdles persist, with delays in establishing information commissions and inadequate complaint redressal mechanisms. Proactive disclosure by public bodies through functional websites is crucial.

Overcoming these challenges demands urgent attention and parliamentary oversight, ensuring Pakistan’s journey towards a transparent and participatory governance system remains on course. By addressing flaws and enforcing existing laws, Pakistan can pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future.