Balochistan Right to Information Act 2021: An Overview

Opinion- Abstract In the recognition of transparency and accountability within the governance context of the province, the Balochistan Right to Information Act of 2021 can be termed as a pivotal instrument. This act empowers citizens with the means to hold their government answerable and actively participate in the democratic process. While the Government of Balochistan has introduced several rights and initiatives over the past decade, the Balochistan Right to Information Act stands as the foundation of these rights, characterizing the government's commitment to its citizens. This article researches into an examination and analysis of the Balochistan Right to Information Act of 2021, its historical background, issues, and proposes measures to enhance its effectiveness.

0

Introduction:

Over the past Balochistan’s administrative landscape has seen significant transformation, driven by factors such as globalization. These changes have seen an increased role in areas once exclusively governed by the state, while the state continues to provide essential services like health and education. Principles of efficiency, economy, and effectiveness from the private sector have influenced government operations, there persists a perception among the general public that government affairs are covered in secrecy, with insufficient sharing of critical information. This results in an administration that may not be as responsive and transparent as desired. In this context, the Balochistan Right to Information Act of 2021 assumes paramount significance, as it serves as a vital legal framework to ensure transparency, accountability, and access to information in Balochistan.

BRTI Act 2021 fundamentally personifies the concept of the citizen’s entitlement to access information from government entities and entities significantly funded, directly or indirectly, by the government, commonly known as public authorities. This right, within specified timeframes, forms an essential cornerstone of transparency and accountability in the province.

Historical Background of Right to Information Act in Balochistan:

In 1946, the United Nations General Assembly made it very clear that having access to information is a basic human right and is like the foundation for all the other freedoms that the UN stands for1. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, in Article 19, makes it clear that every person has the right to have their own opinions and share information and ideas freely through any means, without anyone getting in the way, no matter where they are2. In the international background Sweden was the first country to let its people access information freely in 1766, similarly Finlands’ Constitution 1919 though provides the right of access to public information, the Act on openness of public functionaries was passed in 1951. Several other states passed laws in relation to openness and access to public information, including the Australia (1982), South Africa (2000), United States (1966) and the United Kingdom (2000), have subsequently enacted similar laws. These laws, while sharing a common goal of promoting transparency, vary in their provisions due to the distinctive social, cultural, economic, and political contexts of each country.

The Right to Information (RTI) is an essential human right that aligns with the international definition of freedom of speech. Pakistan made a commitment to follow RTI rule as part of a global agreement known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is like a promise between countries to ensure their citizens have certain rights and freedoms.

At first, in the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan acknowledged freedom of speech as a constitutional right in Article 19, this means it was officially written in the country’s social contract that people have the right to express their thoughts and opinions without fear, but there was a important change in 2010 with the introduction of the 18th Amendment.

The 18th Amendment introduced Article 19A, to the constitution, that gives the right to the people of Pakistan not only to have the freedom to speak their minds but also the right to access information in all important public matters. Article 19A of the Constitution states that every citizen has the right to access public information subject to fair rules and restrictions imposed by law.

Before the enactment of BRTI Act in Balochistan there was an act named as The Balochistan Freedom of Information Act, 2005 which was deemed ineffective after the introduction of Article 19A in the Constitution. The BRTI Act became a law on February 1, 2021, after it was approved by the provincial assembly. Later, on the governor gave assent on February 15, 2021.

Right to Information and its importance:

In the Province of Balochistan, the necessity for the Right to Information arose largely due to the adverse influence of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) of 19235, a colonial-era legislation enacted by the British. The OSA mainly deals with security concerns and creates a structure to deal with activities like spying, acts of betrayal, and other dangers to the country’s safety and truthfulness. If we look back at history, during the time of colonial rule, there was a deep-rooted mistrust of the general public, and public officials held significant power in interactions with citizens.

This environment fostered a culture of keeping things secret, where privacy was the usual practice, and sharing information was a rare occurrence. Even the United Kingdom, which introduced the OSA in Sub-Continent during the colonial era, recognized the need for change. Back in 1971, the UK formed the Franks Committee to analyze some aspects of their Official Secrets Act. The committee made a deep observation, remarking that a government that relies too heavily on secrecy or has hidden agendas hazards losing the trust of its citizens and opening itself up to misguided and harmful criticism.

Moreover, in the year 2003 the government of Balochistan introduced The Balochistan Consumer Protection Act, 2003, a significant piece of legislation that granted Consumers the right to know important details about the products they buy, such as their quality, quantity, effectiveness, purity, standards, and prices. This development led to extensive questioning of why, if the government could enact the Consumer Protection Act, it could not enact the Right to Information Act. This brand-new momentum reflected a desire to empower the less privileged sections of society to ask for information about the policies of the government and their actions. The Act encourages participatory form of democracy and strengthens the way government is run as James Madison wisely said, if a population intends to govern itself, they must equip themselves with the authority that comes from knowledge.

Numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) advocated for the government to enact an RTI law such as CPDI (Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives)9.This movement finally led to the development of the National Campaign for People’s RTI. Finally, in 2021, the Balochistan government enacted the Balochistan Right to Information Act, marking a weighty step towards transparency and accountability.

Salient Features of the Act:

i. The Act covers the right for all citizens to access information. It enables them to ask for information from any public authority, irrespective of extent of the governments’ ownership, control, financial ties or financial influence.

Related Posts
1 of 14

ii. Information, as defined in the Act, incorporates a wide range of materials that can be accessed or sought from a government department in various formats including contracts, reports, press releases, memos, circulars, orders, documents, logbooks, papers, samples, models, and electronic data materials.

iii. Citizens can easily request information by submitting a written application, either on simple paper or electronically, in the official language or Urdu. They can also seek assistance from public information officers.

iv. Public authorities are mandated to provide requested information within 15 days, with even stricter timelines (48 hours) for information related to an individual’s life or liberty.

v. The Act recognizes the need to protect certain information, especially about national security and the country’s integrity, from mandatory disclosure.

vi. Citizens have access to a redressal mechanism, including the option to file appeals and grievances if they do not receive the information within the required time frame.

vii. The Act imposes penalties, such as fines of 25,000 rupees or two days salary,
on officers who fail to comply with its provisions.

Implementation of BRTI Act – Proposals and Challenges:

The BRTI Act of 2021 has been in place for two years now, and it’s a good time to assess it, there are still some noteworthy problems that need to be addressed. Here are the key concerns and proposals regarding the RTI Act.

a. The Balochistan Right to Information Act of 2021 is presently in its initial stage of implementation, with the Government of Balochistan actively working to ensure its effectiveness. As awareness of the Balochistan Right to Information (BRTI) Act spreads among the public, it is anticipated that a significant outpouring in information requests and applications will be lodged against various government departments. While this reflects a positive engagement of citizens with the act, it also raises the prospect of a substantial increase in litigation within the courts.

To address this potential challenge, there is a persistent need to proactively resolve the issue by engaging additional information officers to handle the flood of complaints and applications. Expanding the pool of information officers will not only help streamline the process but also ensure that citizens’ right to access information is met efficiently and without unwarranted delays. It is imperative for the government to take active steps to manage this increased demand and facilitate the successful implementation of the BRTI Act while upholding the values of transparency and accountability in Balochistan.

b. However, the Balochistan Information Commission has not yet been established in the province and it remains needful on government funding for its creation and operational expenses. Addressing this challenge could take in granting constitutional recognition to the Information Commission, parallel to the status enjoyed by institutions like the Election Commission and the Auditor General. This step would concede the vital societal role played by Information Commissions in enhancing accountability and transparency within the governance framework.

c. There is need for greater public awareness about the BRTI Act, and this varies from place to place because of prevalent low literacy rates and limited advertising. To fix this, the concerned department of the government as well as civil society at large can introduce a major legislative-learning initiative in the entire province especially in the remote and rural areas. This could involve using newspapers, handing out pamphlets, and even radio broadcasts. NGOs can also help by going door-to-door to educate people about it13. Further at Union council, tehsil, district, division and likewise at provincial levels there should be a mechanism either via any state institute or the civil society to engage the masses to let them know about their fundamental right to know.

d. Recently, there have been incidents where RTI activists and whistle blowers who seek information to expose corruption and misuse of power by government officials and influential elites, have faced physical harm. It is indeed a matter of grave concern that needs to be curbed. The government must ensure security to whistle blowers and citizens who seek information that can expose a wrong-doing, which is in fact the spirit behind RTI. Greater transparency can only be achieved through implementation of BRTI law along with protection of whistle blower be it a citizen, a media-men, a researcher from civil society or an investigative journalist. The police and other law enforcement agencies should closely cooperate with the Information Commission. Additionally, those who harm RTI activists should face severe consequences to deter others. Creating a whistleblower law specific to RTI activists can also be an invaluable step in safeguarding their efforts to uncover the truth14.
e. A significant issue for public authorities is managing their information effectively. Not all levels of government have fully incorporated information technology, and this means that a lot of data is still handled manually. This can lead to challenges in managing data. To address this, there is a pressing need to swiftly implement and expand e-governance across the country. This would involve computerizing records, workflows, and other processes, ultimately improving how offices manage their records.

f. Active and functional website of the Information Commission is necessary. Owing to technology developments, it has become easy to access the information, therefore, the government institutes should update their websites making the information easily accessible and quicker to the citizens.

Conclusion:

Certainly, this Act has already achieved significant milestones, but there are still important challenges that require our attention and resolution. Let’s take a moment to review the journey so far and the path ahead. This law is like a flashlight that helps uncover the dark corners of government operations. It empowers citizens to seek the truth, ask questions, and demand answers. However, our journey is far from over, there are challenges that need our collective attention. We must continue to work towards spreading awareness about the Act, especially in remote and rural areas. This will ensure that every citizen, regardless of their location or background, can exercise their right to access information.

Moreover, the safety of those who seek information, often at great personal risk, is a matter of utmost importance. Ensuring their protection and well-being is essential for the Act to achieve its intended goals.
As we move forward, let’s remember that the BRTI Act is not just a legal document but a symbol of our assurance to transparency, democracy, and good governance. It’s a tool that can transform the way our government operates, making it more responsive and accountable to the people it serves.
In the coming years, let’s continue to build on the progress we’ve made, address the challenges that lie ahead, and try for a future where transparency and sincerity are the norm, and the right to access information is truly accessible to all.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.