FOIA Pakistan = Transparent Pakistan = Corruption Free Pakistan
|Right to Information
|The ‘Right to Information’ has been accepted as a fundamental human right by the United
Nations. Accordingly, several countries in the world have enacted legislations to facilitate
their citizens an easy access to government-held information and records. This results in
greater transparency, efficiency as well as eradication of evils of corruption, favouritism and
nepotism. In other words, the citizen’s right to information results in good governance.
In case of Pakistan, the Article 19 of the Constitution states:
“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
defense 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 Constitutional right of the citizens to access information has been elaborated and made more
effective by the superior judiciary of Pakistan, notwithstanding its highly ‘conditional’ wordings in
Pakistan has the distinction of becoming the first country in South Asia to promulgate the
Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance in 1997. This was an extremely flawed version, as
the ruling classes never wanted to allow the citizenry to get the so-called ‘sensitive’ information.
But, even this flawed law, which was in form of an Ordinance issued by the President, was
allowed to lapse. The new government, elected through elections, did not bother to either repromulgate
it or pass it in form of a bill in the Parliament. Again, after a lot of inertia and
reluctance spread over more than five years, another flawed version of the law in form of the
Freedom of Information Ordinance was issued by the President in September 2002.
Subsequently, it was provided the Constitutional cover under the 17th Amendment, making it
an Act. However, numerous independent sources have reservations regarding the
effectiveness of the system and stress need for reform in the legislation as well as mechanism
to provide the access to information to the citizens.
The biggest flaw in the law in its present form is that it exempts several important types of
information from their access by the public. Then there are weaknesses relating to the
mechanism as well as right to appeal also. The appeals against government’s decision to deny
access to information take long in obtaining the appeal-authority’s directive and judgment.
The procedure is so cumbersome that many appellants lose their interest in the matter
midway and give up their quest.
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 organizations.
Pakistan needs an improved legislation and mechanism of FOIA more than any other country
as its biggest problem has been corruption and favouritism. Since her independence in 1947,
Pakistan has received billions of dollars in form of grants, aid, loans etc in addition to its own
resources. Since 2001 alone, Pakistan has received 16.765 billion dollars for social sector
development programs from various donors and international financing institutions. On an
average the external funding only comes to about 2.2 billion dollars a year.
But the dismal ground conditions in sectors like infrastructural development, education,
health, power generation etc show that the domestic resources as well as the international
aid has not produced any tangible results despite of the spending huge amounts.
The question arises that where that money has gone? Though there may not be a clear and a
definite answer to this question, a very strong perception is that the money supposed to flow
in these sectors, ends up in secret bank accounts maintained by the high and mighty
At the end of the day, the resources earned by poor of Pakistan enrich few politicians, civil
and military bureaucrats and their collaborators in private sector. To the poor people of
Pakistan the betterment of living standards remain as elusive as they have been from the very
The only solution for this state of affairs is cultivating a culture of transparency and openness
in governance including disbursement and spending of national resources. This notion is
strengthened by the study of the countries who have implemented the citizen’s right to
information. The only way for Pakistan to progress and development is through transparency,
achieved through an improved version of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)