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DKUJ organizes lecture on "Corruption, Transparency and Citizen's Right to Information ...
|KUJ organizes lecture on "Corruption, Transparency and Citizen's Right to Information"
|By Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh
|Karachi, March 2, 2011
Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh, Principal of Sindh Madressatul Islam (SMI) College has said that the greatest problem being faced by Pakistan today and during the last 63 years of its history has been corruption and the perception has been that with every passing year, the menace of corruption has been increasing. He said this while delivering lecture on "Corruption, Transparency and Citizen's Right to Information" at Karachi Press Club on Wednesday. The programme was organized by the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) with collaboration of FOIA, Pakistan.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh said due to corruption an overwhelmingly large number of development projects financed through Pakistan's national resources as well as through international aid have not been able to contribute to the national economy. This has adversely effected Pakistan's national development, which has resulted in poverty and social unrest.
Dr. Shaikh said from 2001 to 2009 alone the country received more than 16 billion dollars from various donors and international financing institutions for social sector and an average, the yearly external funding during this period had been about 2.2 billion dollars. "This was in addition to country's federal and provincial Public Sector Development Programme and it is widely believed that most of this amount could not reach at its intended destination, which is evident from dismal ground conditions in the sectors like infrastructural development, education, health and power generation, for which this amount was given," he maintained.
Talking about basic concept of Citizen's Right to Information (RTI), he said freedom of information and right to information is that as the citizens pay expenditures incurred by governments through their taxes, they have a right to know that what is being done from their money. The RTI says that the officials do not create information for their own benefits, but for benefit of the public, they serve, as part of legitimate and routine discharge of government's duties, hence they cannot keep the information from paying masters: the citizens.
Dr. Shaikh observed that the proponents of this right say that even a beggar pays sales tax on household items contributing to the kitty under charge of the government; hence he has a right to know about each and every function of the government.
He was of the opinion that citizen's right to information is also a fundament human right which has been affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says, "Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated."
He informed that over 85 countries have so far enacted legislations to facilitate their citizens an easy access to the government – held information and records.
Talking on the US model of RTI he said the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requires that the "agency" records be open. The term "agency" includes any executive department, military department, Government corporation, Government controlled corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the government or any independent regulatory agency. He said under the FOIA, "any person" may submit a request for a federal record. Any person includes citizens of foreign countries and persons acting on behalf of organizations such as defense contractors, media companies and public interest groups. He said in the USA, if an agency head denies an appeal for access to a record, or if the agency does not respond within twenty days, a person requesting for information can file a complaint in the federal district court. He informed that in 2007, an office of the Ombudsman has been created in USA to mediate disputes between record requests and agencies.
Citing an example from India Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh said, in India the Right to Information campaign started as an instrumental tool for the achievement of socioeconomic rights of under privileged people and as a deterrent against the rampant corruption operating at all levels of society. He said from being a grassroots movement, the campaign for ATI gradually gained momentum and spread out, leading eventually to the enactment of state and national legislation pertaining to the recognition of the right to information. The experience in India regarding RTI has been that while the poor people and educated middle classes have been in forefront for their right to information, the resistance is being witnessed from two major quarters: bureaucracy and corrupt elements/mafias.
Talking about Pakistan Dr. Shaikh said Pakistan is the first country in South Asia that promulgated the Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance in 1997. Another law, again in form of an Ordinance was issued in September 2002 and the rules under this law were framed two years later in 2004. He said the law, though filled the vacuum but never met the international benchmarks for the freedom of information.
He said the present parliament enacted the legislation through 18th Constitutional Amendment providing protection toe the citizen's right to information for the first time in Pakistan's history. He said currently the law of 2002 is operational but due to unawareness about its existence as well as its cumbersome procedure, less than hundred requests have so far been filled under FOI of 2002.
He said the biggest advantage of the citizen's right to information is that it brings transparency in the functioning of government and making the government functionaries accountable for their deeds and misdeeds.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh expressed thanks to Mr. Siraj Ahmed, president of the Karachi Union of Journalists and secretary Mr. Hassan Abbas, who organized the programme. KUJ president Siraj Ahmed, Secretary Hassan Abbas and Imtiaz Khan Faran also spoke on the occasion.
Daily The News report on Chairman (H) FOIAPakistan's lecture on ...
|Daily The News report on Chairman (H) FOIAPakistan's lecture on "Corruption, Transparency and Citizens' Right to Information" on 28th September 2010
‘Every citizen has inalienable right to information’
|By Anil Datta
Taxpayers, regardless of their station in life, or their financial position, have the inalienable right to know how the government is spending their taxes. This is accepted as a fundamental right the world over. Islam was the first religion to grant this fundamental right, like the right to live.
These views were expressed by Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh, Principal, Sindh Madressatul Islam, in a lecture titled, “Corruption, Transparency, and the Citizen’s Right to Information in Pakistan” at the Madrassa’s auditorium Tuesday afternoon.
The occasion was meant to mark the International Right to Information Day
In a gripping lecture that had the audience listening in rapt attention, Dr Shaikh outlined various forms of corruption and listed their ghastly results.
He described political corruption as the form of the curse indulged in by politicians and bureaucrats and defined it as misuse of public office for private gains and said that it gained maximum intensity when even all the pretense of honesty was ruthlessly abandoned.
This, he said, culminated in mass poverty and social unrest. Besides, he said, corruption facilitated crime. For instance, he said, if there is no accountability, any influential person, as so often happens, to achieve his vicious ulterior motive, could have anybody murdered, resting in the assurance that he could get away with it by bribing the prosecuting agency. He said that in the absence of accountability, officials of the prosecuting agency know that they are not going to be taken to task for their financial misdemeanour. So they’ll just go ahead and reap a bonanza, and such malpractices cumulatively give rise to extreme social unrest, social disequilibrium, and breeding of a handful of Haves and teeming Have-Nots.
To curb these pernicious trends, he said, legislation and transparency were imperative. Accountability had to be ensured and citizens had to be made aware of their right to know.
Lamenting the glaring absence of awareness of this right among citizens, he cited the case of a former dictator President of Pakistan, who resigned very recently and who, while in office, ruled most ruthlessly, blowing all norms of governance to smithereens, treating Pakistan as his private fiefdom. He said that in the case of this President, no citizen had the awareness to ask him as to how he managed to own six palatial residences in the country, a luxury apartment in England, and how he could manage to have an aircraft chartered for his travels across the Atlantic, something that a grade-22 officer could never manage within his legal means. It was tragic irony, he said, that the common man whose money had gone into building this head 0f state’s fortunes just didn’t have the awareness to question him. Nor, he said, was there any legislation that would allow him to question it.
With the help of slides, he highlighted the endemic corruption that has led to grinding economic disparity. One of the slides featured a group of village folk, absolute ragamuffins, not very far away from the affluence-laden Karachi. Their attire was simply pathetic and some didn’t even have shirts to cover the upper parts of their bodies. He said these men told him that their means of income were virtually nil and that they wore the same attire for two or three months at a stretch.
Another slide showed three teenaged girls in Badin, poverty and misery writ large on their faces. He said these girls were idle, having nothing to do and when he enquired as to why these children were not going to school, he was told that on paper there was a school and there were even teachers but these were ghost teachers and there was no school building.
He said between 2001 and 2009, international donors had donated 16 billion dollars to Pakistan to consolidate its social sector, but all this amount went into building palatial, ornate houses for the officials in the swank areas like Clifton and Defence, without any qualms of conscience over the legitimate interests and rights of those the money was meant for going by default.
He blamed this tragic state of affairs on the utter lack of transparency and accountability.
The remedy, he said, lay in the firming up of the institutional framework incorporating the citizens’ right to information.
He drew the participants’ attention to the fact that Pakistan was the first country in South Asia to sign this right to information law in 1997 but the “constitution was not very supportive of it”. He said that while Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan guaranteed this right to information, it was made conditional on many factors pertaining to sensitive matters.
He said that a whole new mechanism was required that must dispense with constraints in the operation of the laws pertaining to the right to information.
Daily Dawn carried article on "Citizens' Right to Information" on its editorial page ...
|Daily Dawn carried article on "Citizens' Right to Information" on its editorial Page on 28th September 2010:
Citizens’ right to know
By Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh
Tuesday, 28 Sep, 2010
THE world is celebrating citizens’ right to know today. In Pakistan’s context, this has special significance in the post-flood scenario as the country’s affairs are considered too opaque by the international community, which is hesitating in advancing financial assistance.
The basic premise of citizen’s right to know is that as citizens pay, through taxes, the expenses incurred by the government, they have a right to know what is being done with their money. Even the poorest person pays sales tax on household items, thus contributing to the kitty under the government’s charge. He has a right to know, therefore, about each and every function of the government.
The biggest advantage of facilitating citizens’ right to information is that it brings transparency to the functioning of the government, making government functionaries accountable for their deeds and misdeeds. This results in the eradication of corruption, favouritism and nepotism, while improving efficiency. In other words, the practice contributes significantly towards good governance.
The United Nations has accepted the right to information as a fundamental human right. Accordingly, several countries have enacted legislation to facilitate citizens’ access to government-held information and records.
Pakistan was the first country in South Asia to promulgate the Freedom of Information Ordinance in 1997. Many believed that the impetus for introducing this law was provided by international donors who were very concerned about the lack of transparency about the utilisation of financial resources advanced by them for various projects. From the international perspective, the ordinance was flawed, a result of only half-hearted efforts. It is also believed that the all-powerful ‘establishment’ in Pakistan was not in favour of bringing further transparency to public affairs. Thus even this flawed and weak piece of legislation, an ordinance issued by the president, was allowed to lapse.
After much inertia another flawed version of the law — prompted once again by international insistence — was issued by the president in Sept 2002. Yet the government’s trend of lethargy continued, which is evident from the fact that the rules under this law were framed two years later, in 2004.
There were many weaknesses in the law, the most significant being that it exempted several important types of information from having to be made accessible to the public. Then, there were several difficulties relating to the mechanism as well as the procedure for an appeal to obtain information from government departments. The procedure devised is so cumbersome that many lose interest in the matter midway through the process and give up their quest.
The complexity of the situation grew due to the highly conditional and ambiguous nature of the constitutional provision relating to the right of information. Article 19 of the constitution says that, “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission or incitement to an offence”.
This condition-carrying constitutional right of the citizens to access information helped make Pakistan a closed and non-transparent society. It was against this backdrop that the Charter of Democracy, signed by the PPP and the PML-N, addressed the issue and resolved to introduce better legislation.
President Asif Ali Zardari reaffirmed this position during his presidential address to the joint session of parliament on Sept 20, 2008, saying “We will soon be bringing other fundamental laws such as the Freedom of Information Bill and work with the stakeholders towards an open atmosphere of self-regulation with no interference from the state”.
Credit goes to the present parliament for providing constitutional protection to the citizens’ right to information. Under the 18th Amendment, another article, 19A, on the “Right to Information” has been inserted. It says: “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”.
While it is commendable that the long-standing constitutional anomaly has been addressed, this is the time that Pakistan should immediately concentrate on developing a new regime of rules governing the practical applications of the law, in confirmation with the best international practices.
The urgency in this regard has arisen due to the devastation caused by the floods and the international community’s insistence on bringing transparency to the manner in which aid is utilised. The international donor community’s concern about the use of aid monies is based on Pakistan’s track record of spending such funds inappropriately.
For instance, between 2001 and 2009, Pakistan received $16.765bn dollars for social sector development programmes from various donors and international financing institutions. On the average, external funding comes to about $2.2bn a year. But the condition on the ground of sectors such as infrastructural development, education, health and power generation, for which these funds were given, have shown very little improvement. This has unsurprisingly given rise to doubts about where the money ended up, leading some aid bodies and countries to hold back after the floods.
Responding to the concerns of national and international donors, President Asif Ali Zardari directed that details about the utilisation and distribution of foreign aid for flood victims be published on a website to ensure transparency. This is a welcome move, provided that the information is not in the raw form as is the case with almost all the government sponsored websites.
Yet, that is not all. A website providing such information is no substitute for an effective and efficient institutional mechanism to provide the public with access to information. Given the current stance taken by the international community, there now exists a chance for Pakistan to do away with its tendencies towards secretiveness and come up with a culture of transparency by introducing and enforcing an improved mechanism for access to information. Only through this route will Pakistan be able to gain the world’s confidence.
The writer is a former Fulbright Scholar.
Minister Environment assures support for FOIA in Pakistan
Karachi: 1st February: Federal Minister for Environment Mr. Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi assured the Executive Director of FOIA Pakistan Network Ms. Shaista Brohi that his Ministry was taking all the measures to keep the people of Pakistan aware of its functioning. He said access to information was every citizen’s right and his Ministry was committed to work proactively for the purpose. He invited Ms. Brohi to his office in Islamabad to hold further deliberations in this regard.
Meeting with Speaker Sindh Assembly held
Karachi: 25th Jan: Mr. Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, Speaker Sindh Assembly held a meeting with Ms. Shaista Brohi, Executive Director of FOIA Pakistan Network. The Executive Director apprised the Speaker of the importance of right to information in a democratic society. The Speaker said that the present democratic government was fully committed to provide citizens access to information as that right was an integral part of democracy.
Lecture on Freedom of Information by Dr. Shaikh
KARACHI - Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh, Principal of SMI College, has said that Pakistan needs an improved legislation and mechanism of the Freedom of Information Act.
He was delivering lecture on ‘Freedom of Information in Pakistan’, at the Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto Auditorium of SMI College, here on Wednesday.
Dr has recently returned from USA after conducting postdoctoral research on Freedom of Information at American University, Washington, DC, as a Fulbright Scholar.
He said the ‘Right to Information’ has been accepted as a fundamental human right by the United Nations.
Accordingly, several countries in the world have enacted legislation’s to facilitate their citizens to an easy access to the government-held information and records.
This resulted in greater transparency, efficiency as well as eradication of evils of corruption, favouritism and nepotism, subsequently it brings good governance.
The Principal of SMI said that an improved and effective law has the potential to bring transparency in Government’s decision-making process, resulting in eradication of corruption, favouritism and nepotism, as the Freedom of Information enables the citizens, civil society groups and public representatives to effectively monitor the public institutions and organisations.
He suggested the cultivation of a culture of transparency and openness in governance including disbursement and utilising national resources.
However, this notion is strengthened by the study of the countries who have implemented the citizen’s right to information. He was of the view that the only way for Pakistan’s progress and development is transparency in all sectors and institutions, achieved through an improved version of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
While appreciating the views of Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh, Nisar Ali Effendi said the younger generation of the country must follow the footsteps of alumni of Sindh Madressah like Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Allama II Kazi, Dr Umar Bin Muhammad Daudpoto, Sir Abdullah Haroon and others, who are still remembered for their integrity and honesty.
Shaista Muhammad Ali said we all have to work for fundamental human rights of every citizen of the country including right to information. She lauded the research work conduced by Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh on the subject of freedom of information. (Reproduced from Daily The Nation http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Karachi/14-Jan-2010/Call-for-freedom-of-information)
Chairperson address on Freedom of Information at Quaid-e-Azam Academy Karachi,
“Pakistan inherited two things at the time of independence in 1947, about a dozen laws curtailing freedom of information and a secrecy-oriented bureaucracy trained and nurtured by the colonial rulers,” said Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh, Principal Sindh Madressatul Islam while delivering a lecture at Quaid-e-Azam Academy on Thursday. “It is to the lasting credit of the Founder of the Nation that he championed the cause of free press and freedom of information,” he observed
Dr. Shaikh quoted Quaid-e-Azam’s speech delivered on 13th March 1947, when addressing the media, he said: “I expect you to be completely fearless. If I go wrong, or for that matter the Muslim League goes wrong in any direction of its policy or programme, I want you to criticize it honestly, as one whose heart is beating with the nation.”
Dr Shaikh pointed out that as long as Quaid-e-Azam was alive, he did not allow to be passed any repressive legislation relating to media, which continued to operate freely during his tenure as Governor General. However, barely a month after his demise, a piece of authoritarian legislation was promulgated under the title of Public Safety Ordinance, which effectively throttled the freedom of information in Pakistan.
Dr. Shaikh observed that the biggest evil being faced by today’s Pakistan was corruption. He said the only way to get rid of it was through transparency. He said the media in Pakistan had attained a fair degree of independence through its ceaseless struggle against the draconian laws, promulgated by dictators. He said that unfortunately the state has yet to come out of the secrecy-oriented mindset.
Dr. Shaikh gave example of the Freedom of Information Ordinance, which was promulgated in 2002, but which still stood just in name because of the inherent flaws in the legislation as well as its mechanism. He reminded the government of the promise made through the Charter of Democracy, which was signed by Ms. Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, and which clearly stated that the Freedom of Information legislation would be reformed.
The program was also addressed by Director of Quaid-e-Azam Academy Mr. Manzoor Ali Khan, veteran Muslim Leaguer Mr. Saeed Siddiqui, Prof. Nusrat Idress and other speakers.
Assignment at American University Completed
Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh, Chairperson (H) FOIA Pakistan Network completed his post-doctoral research on various FOIA models at American University, Washington, DC. He held meetings with leading FOIA professionals and academics. His research was sponsored by the Fulbright Foundation.
Interactive workshop held
An interactive workshop on right to information in Pakistan was held at Karachi on 23rd December 2009, where civil society activists, academics and journalists participated. It was resolved that the Freedom of Information legislation in Pakistan needed reformation. The forum appealed the legislators, particularly from ruling coalition to fulfil their promise of reforming the laws without any further delay.
Executive Director talks to rural females in Sindh
Ms. Shaista Brohi, Executive Director FOIA Pakistan Network briefed the rural women about their rights under freedom of information ordinance, during her visit to Thatta district. She told the female NGO workers, teachers and students how they could effectively change their lives and environment through using the FOI legislation.
Dawn article on 'Citizens' Right to Know' by Chairperson