LARKANA: Speakers at a seminar said that Article 19-A of the constitution provides a framework for promoting interface between the citizens and the government, ensuring the people’s right to have access to information in all matters of public importance.
The program was organized by Civil Society Support Program (CSSP) in collaboration with Enhanced Democratic Accountability and Civic Engagement (EDACE) under title Freedom of Information. It was attended by senior bar members, media persons, civil society activists, and large number of youth as well.
Speaking at the program, renowned advocate and former Larkana High Court Bar General Secretary Akeel Bhutto said that according to Article 19 (A) of the Constitution, every citizen has the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law. He said that there are plethora of records related to a common man that are held by public bodies but there have been neither public awareness procedures, making people aware how common people can have access to their own records nor public bodies display such information at prominent places at their premises. Consequently, a majority of citizens do not know about the fees and procedures to get copies of public records added Bhutto. Advocate Rafique Abro observed that lack of information about fee and procedures to get copies of these records results in corruption and hardships for a common man.
Larkana Press Club President S. Iqbal Babu stressed the need for proactive disclosure of information by public departments through their web sites. He was of the view that online sharing of information will go a long way in improving service delivery. He further said that sharing of records through web sites will eliminate the need for visiting offices of public bodies in person. As a result, people will not have to run from pillar to post and offer bribes to get things done. Babu apprised that according to the Act, govt had to appoint public information officers in every department to deal with FoI request, however, no govt department has appointed any officer to deal with FoI requests. Jawed Shah pointed out that the Act has some inherent flaws in shape of long and delayed timelines for the process up to more than 21 days, which shows level of seriousness on the part of the authorities.
Advocate Kalpna Devi said that according to Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006, every citizen of Sindh shall have right to have access to information from the public institutions and the insertion of Article 19A in the Constitution has strengthened and also adorned this right. She said that common public is gripped with many issues and there is dire need to create wider awareness among the people.
Afzal Shaikh of CSSP said that Pakistan is the first country in the South Asia, which promulgated Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002 at the Federal level. Despite the passage of 13 years since promulgation of the Ordinance, the results expected from this law are still awaited and this can largely be attributed to the lack of public awareness about the very existence of this law.
Kashif Siddiqui, General Manager of CSSP said that the objective of the program is to support transparency and accountability in the govt institutions and also protecting the fundamental rights in the light of the constitution. He said that increasing awareness of Right to Information law among the government officials and the common public could ensure good governance. PPI
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