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Saturday February 24, 2024

Information is a right

By Editorial Board
December 04, 2023

How can a group of rulers get people to not say anything against their poor policy choices? They can do that by withholding people’s access to information and freedom of expression. If the latest reports are anything to go by, Pakistan has a poor record of ensuring that people have the privilege of knowing what their government has done (or is planning to do). 

Reports suggest that the Right to Information Act 2013 enacted in Punjab lacks three important aspects, due to which the Act does not meet the criteria of the UN Access to Information Agenda and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration. The RTI law is essential for keeping people well-informed about the government’s policies and other actions taken by different state institutions. 

All of this helps people to not only make better decisions during elections but also enable them to hold public office holders accountable.

A representational image of a person showing a fist during a protest. — Pixabay/File
A representational image of a person showing a fist during a protest. — Pixabay/File

The fact that Punjab’s RTI legislation falls short of global standards implies that the government is still not ready to share information with people. One glaring shortcoming of the legislation is its restrictions regarding who qualifies for accessing the information. At present, the information is accessible to only the country’s citizens, which means that global intellectuals and think tanks cannot access them. Another thing that makes the Act fall short of global standards is the lack of protection extended to individuals who disclose such information to the public. We saw in the past what happened to whistleblowers. Most investigative journalists rely on right to information laws to break important stories. But over the years – and mostly due to the fact that crimes against journalism have been accepted throughout society – most journalists who show enthusiasm to uncover the truth have been forced to stay low. Journalists in exile rarely produce powerful investigative stories.

Besides this, authorities also lack the mechanism to tackle annoying, repetitive or unreasonable requests. All such shortcomings take people further away from truth, leaving the public blissfully unaware of what their government is up to. While the situation in the West is also not ideal (the case of Julian Assange shows how powerful governments do not want their wrong decisions and war crimes to get uncovered), residents of these countries enjoy some degree of liberty to access vital information. In any thriving democracy, transparency and accountability are the cornerstones that uphold the pillars of governance. As we navigate an increasingly complex world, the importance of an RTI law cannot be overstated-it is not merely a legal provision but a cornerstone of a healthy, functioning democracy.