Official corruption and lack of accountability in governmental affairs are the kind of issues that affect every Pakistani in one way or the other. Pakistan has been too slow in evolving systemic mechanisms for addressing these issues. One of the long overdue steps in this regard is implementing citizens’ right to information.
Right to information is indeed a very crucial instrument in empowering citizenry. Only if people are aware of the ways government is spending taxpayers’ money and administering public resources, they would be able to check corruption and misuse of power. One of the hallmarks that distinguish a democratic system from other systems is the citizens’ access to necessary and important public information. The central principle of accountability of the government in a democratic system cannot be realized until people have open and free access to information pertaining to governmental affairs.
Through recognizing right to information Pakistan has moved a step further in its slow but unyielding journey towards the establishment of democratic polity. But there is still a long way to go. Almost four years ago right to information was recognized in 18th Constitutional Amendment under Article 19-A. Today all the provinces have their respective laws on granting right to information, Punjab being the last one to catch up. But like in so many other cases, having good laws itself is not a guarantee of anything unless the laws are implemented in their letter and spirit. So far most of the people are even not aware that such a law exists. The awareness should incorporate a detailed understanding of the laws including but not limited to the role of Public Information Officer, Information Commission and the working of various official procedures established under the law. Along with government and civil society, other stakeholders such as mass media, political parties and legal fraternity also have a greater role to play in this regard.