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Right to Information | A Key to Good Governance

Among many basic human rights the right to information is of pivotal importance. It has been incorporated in the constitution of democratic countries as well as in international human rights documents. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are the examples of primacy accorded to this basic human right. Out of 97 countries in the world that have adopted this basic human right, five are in South Asia: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Maldives and Pakistan.

Information is the basic component of knowledge, and power can be derived from knowledge. Therefore information makes people more aware about things around them and this awareness adds to their wisdom and understanding to ensure their rights. But, who is responsible to inform the people? Certainly, it is the government which makes arrangement to disseminate information in order to ensure people’s participation in the process of taking decisions for the future. This, in turn, makes the governance good and brings transparency, efficiency, accountability and responsiveness — the basic ingredients of good governance.

Gone are the days when information of pubic importance was kept secret. Due to this, vested interests groups used to derive power for their private gains. It is the duty of the government to inform people not only about its day-to-day activities, but also about the decisions taken behind closed doors. A World Bank reports has rightly remarked that “Right to information is an integral part of good governance.” Expectations of a common man from the government are: solutions to their problems timely, promptly, without arbitrariness, and readily-available information. To ensure all this, active participation of men and women in state affairs, access to information without any delay, and availability of record, documents and policies to them, are inevitable.

Right to information brings transparency as the decisions taken shall be put to scrutiny under rules and regulations. This, in turn, would curb arbitrariness because people would be able to hold the officials accountable, and the resultant corrective measures would definitely improve situation. It also enhances public confidence and trust in the system. Since it works for the welfare of the public, therefore, the marginalized groups are protected by the educated and active groups.

Empowerment eliminates exploitation at the hands of few, and people claim their legitimate rights with force of law and compel the officials to not cross their stated jurisdiction. Decisions are reflective of consensus and mutual trust and are exponent of equity and inclusiveness since people own them across the board. If timely decisions are not taken, good governance shall remain elusive and people will assert their rights and ask the government to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in running the state affairs.

In Pakistan, Right to Information has so far been enacted in Punjab and KP. In Punjab “The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013” was promulgated in December 2013. The main features of the Act are as follows:

Preamble recognizes transparency and freedom of information to provide improved access to information making government more accountable, and to enforce fundamental right of access to information. The basic object of the Act is to curtail corruption bring transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in government affairs and hold public functionaries accountable.

Information means any information held by a public body and includes any memo, book, design, map, contract, proposal, photograph, audio, video, drawing, and film, an instrument prepared through electronic process, machine readable documents and any other documentary material regardless of its physical form or characteristics. According to the Act, a public body means, a department, attached department, autonomous body or semiautonomous of the government, a company of the Government or a special institution, a local body, secretariat of the Governor of the Punjab, any court, tribunal, office, board, commission, council or other body financed by the government, provincial assembly of the Punjab, NGOs financed by the government, and statutory body established under a provincial law.

Under the Act, public authorities shall designate some of its officers as public information officers who shall be responsible to give information to a person who seeks information. The procedure of seeking information is through written application on a plain paper or any other means of communication specifying the particulars of information sought for, reasons for seeking information are not compulsory to be revealed. The information shall be supplied free of cost except the cost of reproducing information.

The major challenges which thwart the true implementation of law include low level of awareness among the masses, particularly in remote areas whereas lackluster efforts of the public bodies to inform people about their rights through media need overhauling. Most of the information people require for the redressal of their grievances is not readily available. Poor record management, non-availability of user guide, the culture of hiding information, bureaucratic attitude and lack of basic infrastructure for dissemination of information remain the main problems in implementing the Act.

The steps required to enhance the efficacy of Right to Information Act are allocation of funds so as to make people aware of this fundamental right. Media is playing a proactive role in sensitizing the people about the affairs of the government; it should sensitize people in this regard too. This Act can also be included in the school activities. Monitoring mechanism also needs to be strengthened.

In a democratic society it is must to ensure participation of masses in decision making and for that purpose the access to information is a basic. With the enforcement of this Act, people will start trusting the state institutions and thereby the sense of ownership would also be enhanced among the people.

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