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November 10, 2018
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Govt forms commission on right to information

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November 10, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: In a welcome move for transparency and good governance, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has finally notified the Federal Information Commission which will ensure implementation of right to information (RTI) law on federal level.

Not only this, the PTI government is receiving accolades for nominating a visually challenged activist as one of the members of the commission making Pakistani the only country in the world to have a blind person as commissioner. The Ministry of Information issued the notification on November 7 to appoint members of the important commission which is an appellate body responsible for ensuring implementation of RTI law.

The appointment of Zahid Abdullah, a prominent activist working in the field of right to information for last two decades has pleasantly surprised the civil society which showered praise on government for merit-based appointment. Zahid who lost sight in 2001 after an ailment, played key role in enactment and promotion of RTI laws in Punjab, KP, Sindh and the Centre.

There are information commission and similar bodies in over 100 countries around the global but Zahid is the only blind person in the world to be appointed as commissioner.

According to notification Fawad Malik Advocate will also be a member of the commission. Both members have been appointed for a period of four years. The last government had missed the legal six-month deadline to form the commission. The federal ‘Right of Access to Information Act, 2017’ was enacted on October 16, 2017. The PML-N government was legally bound to establish the commission, which is an appellate forum, within six months of the enactment of law so that citizens could effectively utilise it.

However, the government could not fulfil its legal obligation until April 16, 2018. According to the section 18, the prime minster is responsible to establish information commission within six months. Information commissions are oversight bodies responsible for deciding complaints filed by citizens over non-provision of information by the public bodies and spreading awareness about RTI. Not only this, the commission can even penalise a public official for not disclosing the information related to public matters.

Talking to The News after his appointment Zahid Abdullah called for greater transparency in the government departments. “It is a good sign for the country that PTI government seems interested in public accountability through transparency in the functioning of federal government departments by implementing the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.” He said there is strong need to ensure that public bodies provide information to citizens on demand but there is greater need to ensure that federal government departments proactively disclose information in proactive manner so that citizens can see how their taxes are being put to use.

Zahid said he want the information to be accessible to people with special needs.

“As a blind person I am hopeful that members of the information commission will ensure that categories of information declared public information in the law are not only made proactively disclosed by government departments through their web sites but such information is accessible for the blind who use screen reading softwares to access information on the web.”

Former Punjab Information Commissioner Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, RTI activist Aftab Alam and others praised the government for Zahid’s appointment.

Zahid Abdullah is credited with formation of Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI), a network of 52 civil society groups. He has contributed over 60 Op-Ed pages articles in local English dailies, carrying out research studies, writing country briefing papers and by engaging stakeholders at public forums. He also developed model right to information laws and made comments on drafts prepared by federal and provincial governments for effective legislation on right to information. He also popularised use of RTI laws for investigative reporting by imparting training and sharing ideas with journalists which resulted in over 50 investigative reports contributed in national dailies and the process continues.

Zahid has trained hundreds of citizens on the use of right to information legislation for attainment of basic rights and over 200 Public Information Officers (PIOs) on their roles and responsibilities under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab right to information laws.

He has also set up ‘Internet Cafe for the Blind’ at PFFB (Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness) in 2005 and served as its first Director which continues to improve computing skills of the blind.

Talking about his early life in a village of district Sargodha, Zahid said in his infancy he had partial sight in the day time but suffered complete night blindness. When I reached school going age, an uncle, who had passed his intermediate and was the highly educated person in our family, suggested that I should be enrolled in a madrisa to be trained as a ‘Hafiz’ as I was extremely low visioned.

“However, the idea did not appeal to my mother. She had been to school herself for four years and could read and write. She wanted his son to obtain masters degree in English”.

Eventually Zahid did not only obtained Masters’ degree in English but also authored books and articles in English.

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