POLITICS & POLICY

 

PROFILE MOHAMMAD SHOAIB
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POLITICS & POLICY 1- ACCESS TO INFORMATION
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ACCESS TO INFORMATION

 

Cabinet approves ordinance

 

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Sep 30 - Oct 06, 2002

Access to information regarding public record is the right of every citizen because it is the people who provide fuel to run the vehicle of the government administration. Unfortunately, people of Pakistan have been denied of this right in the past which encouraged a culture among the officials to sit on the information and take deal with the important matters on their will without any fear of accountability of the unfair acts and decisions.

One of the major reasons causing huge losses to the public sector organization which are running in billion of rupees were due to violation of the rules by the management and excessive politicization in those organizations.

Besides corruption, inefficiency and favouritism in the public sector organization, denial of access to information also results in the spread of rumours based on assumptions.

It is for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the present government seriously taken up the matter and approved an Ordinance allowing access of information to the general public. It is expected that if this law was implemented in letter and spirit, even a habitually corrupt man will think twice before taking a wrong decision.

Credit goes to the present government for approving the Ordinance of Freedom of Information which has rolled the ball into the court of the future house of the legislatives as a result of the forthcoming general elections next month.

ORDINANCE

The government has approved the much sought after Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002 to provide basis for transparency and freedom of information in the country.

The New Ordinance was approved at a Cabinet meeting presided over by President Pervez Musharraf held in Islamabad last week.

The new Ordinance ensures improved access of the citizens to public records to serve the interests of accountability. The Ordinance is not Press and Media specific, but any citizen could have access to specified official records.

Though the ordinance provides for access to all records of public bodies about policies and guidelines, grant of licences etc, final orders and decisions etc, some records have been specifically disallowed like noting on the files, minutes of meetings, intermediary opinion and recommendation.

The record of banking companies and financial institutions and record declared by the government as classified, record relating to defence and security etc. are excluded from public access.

The record will be made available within a specified period on payment of certain fees. In case it is denied, the matter can be referred to head of the institution or the Wafaqi Mohtasib and the federal tax ombudsman.

The Ordinance requires each public body to ensure that all records as detailed in this law are properly maintained.

The acts and subordinate legislation such as rules and regulations, notifications, by-laws, manuals, orders having the force of law in Pakistan shall be duly published and made available at a reasonable price at an adequate number of outlets so that access thereof is easier, less time-consuming and less expensive.

Each public body shall endeavour within reasonable time and subject to the availability of resources that all records covered by the provisions of this Ordinance are computerized and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that authorized access to such record is facilitated.

Subject to the provision of this law, the following records of all public bodies have been declared to be the public record:

i. Policies and guidelines.
ii. Transactions involving acquisition and disposal of property and expenditure undertaken by a public body in the performance of its duties.
iii. Information regarding grant of licences, allotments and other benefits and privileges and contracts and agreements made by a public body.
iv. Final orders and decisions, including decision relating to members of public.
v. Any other record which may be notified by the Federal Government as public records for the purpose of this Ordinance.

The above detailed provision shall not apply to the following record of all public bodies:

i. Noting on the files
ii. Minutes of meetings
iii. Any intermediary opinion or recommendation.
iv. Record of the banking companies and financial institutions relating to the accounts of their customers.
v. Record relating to defence forces, defence installation or connected therewith or ancillary to defence and national security.
vi. Record declared as classified by the Federal Government.
vii. Record relating to the personal privacy of any individual.
viii. Record of private documents furnished to a public body either on an express or implied condition that information contained in any such document shall not be disclosed to a third person.
ix. Any other record which the Federal Government may, in public interest, excludes from the purview of the Ordinance.

The new law is expected to ensure transparency in implementation of the decisions by the officials and help strengthening the much desired state of transparency in the general proceedings of the public sector organizations.