The Right to Information: Fostering Good Governance in Pakistan’s KP Province
Information empowers people and enables them to properly exercise their legal, political, social and economic rights. Keeping in view these realities, almost every society has created a mechanism for free flow of information and ideas so that people have easy access whenever required.
There are several factors which emphasize the need and necessity of this right in a country, where transparency and accountability is needed the most. The Right to Information (RTI) thus emerges as a powerful tool to ensure transparency, promote accountability, curb corruption, improve service delivery and empower citizens to obtain their entitlements. The Right to information is therefore central to the achievement of all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
RTI is a fundamental human right under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, whereas in Pakistan it is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19-A of the Constitution. It is also reflected in the SDG indicator 16.10.2. From a historical point of view, Right to Information in Pakistan marks a paradigm shift within the citizen-state relationship. This is because the administrative set up in Pakistan was a colonial legacy where secrecy was of paramount importance. There was, thus no involvement of the citizens in public matters. The RTI law in fact broke that sound barrier and promoted citizens integration in governance.
The KP RTI Act is a sub-national law of Pakistan which was enacted in the province of KP bordering Afghanistan in the year 2013 as part of its Good Governance Legislative Framework, with the aim to promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of public bodies, thereby building state-citizen trust. This became a sine qua non because of an extremely high level of militancy and violence which the people of KP had to undergo, during the global war against terrorism. In line with the recommendations of the Post Crisis Need Assessment (PCNA report) prepared by the World Bank, visible measures had to be taken to restore the trust of citizens in the state. The communication gap between the citizens and government had to be bridged, hence the RTI law. Today we can safely say that due to the commitment and ownership of the government, the RTI law in the province is playing a visible role in improving governance, and public service delivery.
The RTI law in fact broke that sound barrier and promoted citizens integration in governance.
It is been five years since the RTI Law is under implementation making it high time to assess the implementation of the law in the province. Therefore, KP Information Commission, together with stakeholders from civil society in Pakistan and beyond, developed a unique methodology for the assessment of RTI Implementation. The methodology has been prepared with the support of GIZ under the Support to Local Governance Programme, and Center for Law and Democracy (CLD) through extensive rounds of consultations with government departments and other stakeholders in 2017–19. This methodology has the potential to be applied as standard approach in other countries as well.
This is being done in context of Pakistan’s strong commitment for effective implementation of RTI laws at the federal and the provincial levels. Assessing the extent to which public authorities comply with the provisions of the law is a complex process. The Methodology developed to evaluate SDG indicator 16.10.2 is considered even beyond the requirements presented by UNESCO, the official custodian of SDG 16.10.2. The tool assesses, both individual public authorities and the oversight mechanism. It uses a wide range of approaches to evaluate proactive disclosures, e.g. central measures, institutional measures, and reactive disclosure.
The methodology and the result of its implementation in KP will be presented at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2019. Based on the results, we foresee adjustments and a stronger focus on shortcomings and gaps in the RTI framework. Given the political commitment on RTI in KP, the province could serve as a role model in Pakistan and beyond.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Azmat Hanif Orakzai, the current Chief Information Commissioner of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Commission, belongs to the Pakistan Administration Services group. Previously, he has served on several senior level administrative posts in the province, both in field as well as at the secretarial level.
He has attended several training courses abroad relating to public sector administration and development, to inter-alia include the Executive Leadership Development Program at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA.