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October 11, 2017

Implementation of RTI law is real issue: Babar


October 11, 2017

asim yaISLAMABAD: Senator Farhatullah Babar Monday said that the real issue with the RTI Bill passed last week by the National Assembly was not whether it was a good or not so good law but the real issue was whether the mindset of civil-military bureaucracy would accept it and whether mechanisms provided in the law would indeed be set up for its implementation.

“All powers disdain transparency, accountability and sharing of information, he said at a discussion on RTI held by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Islamabad Monday. The discussion was also addressed by PIPS Executive Director Zafarullah Khan and senior journalist Ziaduddin.

“In theory one may give first grade to the RTI Bill but in practice it remains to be seen whether it can be placed even in third grade", he said recalling instances of stiff resistance to the public right to know because of 'the mindset that abhors questioning'.

Giving examples of the mindset, he said when some years ago the Senate committee took up RTI, the Ministry of Defence asked that it must be put on hold till it gave NOC.

He said that information had been denied even to Parliament on grounds of so-called 'national security' on the one hand and 'independence of judiciary' on the other."When lawmakers inside Parliament are denied information, the people outside it are unlikely to get information, RTI or no RTI", he said.

Elaborating, he said that question whether there was any law regulating the secret agency was declined to be answered on grounds of 'sensitive and secret'. A question whether an inquiry had been held in Kargil war was declined on the same ground.

Examples of such absurdities are documented in the publication "killed in the chamber" or just look at what happened to questions about banned militant outfits during recent sessions of the Senate, he said.

He said that parliamentary questions about some aspects of judiciary were also not answered in the past on grounds of 'independence of judiciary'.

The RTI as passed by the National Assembly is good compass for future direction, he said adding, "But the road is far too tedious and long that makes the destination of transparency and accountability a mirage and a distant dream. Secrecy and refusal to submit to an across the board accountability is engrained in the psyche of all authority and all wielders of power whether civil, military or judicial,” he said.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said the admission two days ago by Law Minister Hamid Zahid of inability to make an across the board accountability law that covered all state institutions and disabused the notion of sacred cows, is a clear signal. “When some powerful people become too accustomed to privilege and take for granted their disregard for transparency and accountability the outcome is: they not only stoutly defend the legal system that protects them but also create a social and moral code that glorifies their power and privilege,” he said.

About the RTI itself, he said that there was room for improvement no doubt but in the first instance attention should be focused on its implementation. He proposed that information contained in notes and minutes of meetings should also be part of public record. Critical information that can expose wrongdoing is often hidden in the notes and minutes of official meetings. “They tell you who said what, who opposed a scheme and on what grounds, who initiated it and whether some very strong objections were overruled by the authority,” he said.

To illustrate, the CDA decided sometime back to cancel the lease of 1400 acres of land leased for agricultural research in Islamabad. On the face, it appeared to be a case of violation of terms of lease. However, information contained in the summary revealed that the lease had actually been cancelled to implement a decision already taken unilaterally in PM House to give land to land developers for building a housing scheme. “The dubious scheme was suspended when the Senate made this information public,” he said.

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