Right To Information: Fostering Good Governance And Citizen Empowerment In KP

The KPK RTI Act has been widely praised for its progressive and citizen-friendly provisions, which have made it easier and cheaper for citizens to access information from public bodies.

Right To Information: Fostering Good Governance And Citizen Empowerment In KP

When people can ask questions and access information freely, they strengthen the pillars of good governance, transparency and accountability. These become not just aspirational goals, but achievable realities. 

The Right to Information (RTI) is a fundamental right that enables citizens to access information from public authorities and hold them accountable for their actions and decisions. RTI is not only a legal entitlement, but also a means of achieving good governance, which is based on the principles of transparency and accountability. Good governance ensures that the government listens to the people, explains its policies and actions, and responds to their needs and demands. 

RTI can also deliver significant social benefits, such as exposing corruption, improving public services, enhancing democracy, and promoting human rights. By accessing information, citizens can monitor the performance of public officials and institutions, expose misuse of public funds and resources.

A prime example of RTI’s impact on good governance and social welfare is the case of the 2G spectrum scam in India, which is considered one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history. The scam involved allegations of corruption and irregularities in the allocation of the 2G spectrum, which is a scarce and valuable resource used for mobile communication. The scam led to a significant loss to the exchequer, estimated at around $40 billion, and also affected the quality and affordability of telecom services for millions of users.

The scam came to light through the use of RTI, which enabled activists and journalists to access crucial information that revealed the extent and nature of the scam. The information obtained through RTI included the list of licensees, the spectrum allocation policy, the pricing mechanism, the audit reports, and the correspondence between the government officials and the telecom companies. The information exposed the collusion, favoritism, and manipulation that characterized the spectrum allocation process, and also raised questions about the role of the prime minister, and the regulatory bodies.

The 2G spectrum scam case illustrates how RTI can serve as a powerful tool to expose corruption, ensure accountability, and bring about reforms. It also shows how RTI can empower citizens to participate effectively and hold government officials accountable for their actions and decisions.

The Right to Information (RTI) is also a pillar of accountability and openness in Pakistan's legal system. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in particular, has been at the forefront of implementing with its RTI Act of 2013.

The KPK RTI Act covers all public bodies, including the executive, the legislature and the local governments. It also covers non-governmental organizations that receive public funds or perform public functions. The act grants citizens the right to access information on any matter of public importance, subject to certain exemptions that protect the legitimate interests of the state and the individuals. The act also provides for the establishment of the KPK RTI Commission, which is an independent and autonomous body that oversees the implementation of the act, hears complaints, and imposes penalties.

The process of filing an RTI request in KPK is straightforward. A citizen can submit a request to the designated Public Information Officer of the concerned department. The public body is required to provide the information within 10 working days, or 14 working days in case of third party involvement. If the information is not provided within the stipulated time, or the applicant is not satisfied with the response, he or she can lodge a complaint with the KPK RTI Commission, which is obliged to decide the complaint within 60 working days.

The KPK RTI Act has been widely praised for its progressive and citizen-friendly provisions, which have made it easier and cheaper for citizens to access information from public bodies. The act has also contributed to increased citizen involvement and a reduction in corruption, as evidenced by the success stories of various RTI users. For instance, RTI has been used to improve health and education facilities, monitor development projects, and access land records.

The Deputy Director Communication of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission Syed Sadat Jahan, in a session organized by the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) acknowledged the significant strides made in promoting good governance through the RTI Act in KPK. He said, “The act has led to increased citizen involvement and a reduction in corruption. It has also improved the performance and accountability of public bodies, as they know that they are answerable to the public.” However, he also pointed out challenges such as implementation hurdles, lack of awareness, and resistance from some public officials, which need to be addressed to maximize the act’s potential.

The KPK RTI Act demonstrates the transformative power of transparent governance. While there are challenges to overcome, the act’s achievements are a promising step towards a more informed and engaged citizenry. The act also serves as a model and inspiration for other provinces in Pakistan, which have also adopted RTI laws, but with varying degrees of effectiveness.

For instance, the Punjab RTI Act is similar to the KPK RTI Act in many aspects, such as the scope, the exemptions, the process, and the commission. However, the Punjab RTI Act also has some distinctive features, such as extending the right to access information not only to citizens but also to legal entities within Pakistan. This inclusivity broadens the scope of transparency beyond individual citizens, and allows organizations such as media, civil society, and businesses to access information from public bodies.

However, the federal Right of Access to Information Act 2017, which applies to the federal public bodies, has been critiqued for its narrow definition of ‘public records,’ which excludes many categories of information, such as cabinet memos, policy advice, internal deliberations, and personal notes. This definition potentially limits the information available to the public, and undermines the spirit of transparency and accountability. The federal RTI Act has also been criticized for its lack of independence and autonomy of the commission.

The RTI movement in Pakistan is still evolving and facing challenges, but it is also gaining momentum and support. As more and more citizens exercise their right to information, and more and more public bodies respond to their requests, the culture of transparency and accountability will gradually take root and flourish in the country. RTI is not only a right, but also a responsibility, of both the government and the people, to work together for the common good.