Sindh still awaits effective RTI law

KARACHI: Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment, under the banner of “Citizens’ Voice for strengthening Transparency and Accountability Mechanism” organized a constructive session with parliamentarians on Saturday at local hotel to stress the need to enact an effective Right To Information (RTI) Law in Sindh.

Deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly Shehla Raza, Engr. Mohammad Pervaiz Arain Special Assistant to CM Sindh, PPP senior leader Latif Mughal, representatives of Shehri-Citizens coalition partners and persons belonging to media were present.

Shehri CBE, Project Manager Citizens’ Voice Dr Raza Gardezi gave a detailed presentation on the final draft of Sindh RTI Bill 2015 which was prepared under the banner of “Coalition on Transparency & Access to Information” (C-TAI). In his presentation, he emphasized the significance of an effective RTI Bill and need for its immediate implementation.

He said that current Sindh FOI 2006 bill prepared by Information and Archives Department of Sindh government has many weaknesses. He said this bill is a ditto copy of the same bill passed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.

He said that the access to information is the fundamental right of every citizen and it is high time that this right is given to the citizens of Sindh in its true from and essence.

Gardezi asked that if the right can be delegated by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to the citizens of KPK and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Punjab, then why Pakistan People’s party (PPP) is not doing the same in Sindh. He said that according to law, the government departments must appoint the public information officers for dealing with public so in this perception the KPK government has appointed 600 public information officers, Punjab 520, while Sindh government, shamelessly, has failed to appoint any such officer for the convenience of citizens.

He said the civil society has done its part by drafting an RTI bill of international standard. He said it is common perception that FOI law is anti-bureaucracy law as the high scaled officers avoid the interference of common people into their departments.

He lamented on the government of Sindh that Information & Archives Department has taken no suggestion from the civil society while drafting the bill.

He said that there must be a strong demand for adaptation of C-TAI draft by the Sindh Government. He suggested the Sindh government that the officers appointed for the public dealing should be of BPS-18, no fee should be charged for provision of information and the information should be provided to citizens in minimum time of 20 days.

However, deputy speaker Shehla Raza said when the government body constitutes any law it also includes the persons belonging to NGOs or civil society if needed. She said that when any law is tabled they forward it to the Law Department for interpretation then the same is forward to the concerned standing committee of Sindh assembly.

She assured the participants that she would try her best to bring this issue on priority basis to the parliamentarians and if the bill needs to amend, the changes must be brought in the bill.

PPP senior leader Latif Mughal said the Sindh government should immediately adopt the bill formed by the Shehri-Citizens and its coalition partners. He said that he is fully satisfied with drafted bill.

The participants in their suggestions said that there is dire need to conduct short meetings with government official on priority bases and government should ask its officers not to take any political pressures in the matters of public interest.