Freedom of Information Ordinance [FOI]

What is the Freedom of Information Ordinance?

The Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 was promulgated by Former President General Pervez Musharraf. The Ordinance enables citizens to access public records of Federal Government agencies and departments.

What is the current status of the FOI Ordinance?

The FOI Ordinance is a statutory legislation by virtue of Article 270AAA of the Constitution. Even though it was promulgated by then President and not tabled by Parliament, it stands equivalent to legislation due to the aforementioned clause. However, it can be repealed by future legislations.
http://www.infopakistan.pk/constitution-of-pakistan/article/270AAA-Validation-and-affirmation-of-laws-etc

What information can citizens access under this Ordinance?

a) Transactions involving properties and any expenses made during the performance of the bodies’ duties
b) Grants of licenses, allotment or any other contract or agreements made by a public body
c) Decisions or orders passed
d) Any record which is classified as public record by the Federal Government

What information are citizens prevented from accessing?

Records which are excluded from public viewing are:

a) Minutes of meetings
b) Intermediary opinions and recommendations
c) Banking or any financial institutions records of customers
d) Anything in relation to defense or national security
e) Classified information as declared by Federal Government
f) Anything violation individual privacy
g) Any record that expressly or impliedly is said to not be disclosed to a 3rd person
h) Federal government may exclude any document, in public interest
i) Records of provincial bodies
j) Any record that may cause
i) a threat to national security;
ii) a decline or hurt the economy or running of business;
iii)interfere in international relations;
iv)may lead to committing of an offense or interfere in law enforcement;
v) interfere property security or may lead to escape of a legal prisoner, cannot be demanded by the public.
[http://www.transparency.org.pk/documents/FIO.pdf]

How can citizens access records?
Citizens can access records through an application process. They must fill out an application (available online at http://foiapakistan.com/request.html) addressed to the appropriate person in the department containing details about the nature of the information required, attach a copy of their CNIC, obtain a challan form and pay a Rs. 50 challan and post or hand deliver the form.

[Data received from Shehri– FOI Powerpoint and FOIA.com]

How many FOI requests have been made under the Ordinance?

According to Dr. Syed Raza Ali Gardezi, Shehri, nearly 1500-2000 FOI requests have been filed since the ordinance came into existence in 2002, as of 2013.

What has been the outcome of FOI requests?
In Shehri’s pursuit of government transparency and accountability, they have filed almost 200 FOI requests. Most responses did not come until a year or so later, and usually ended up in the Ombudsman’s office. In their experience, they also found that the Ombudsman were initially unaware of the legislation and with time,the Ombudsman became more aware of the laws. After years of relentlessly pursuing FOI applications, Shehri has had some positive outcome and responses, with the applications being responded to in 6 months.

How effective is the Ordinance?
According to a report by the Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Ordinance is not as effective as it could be. There is no balance between a citizen’s right to information and the government’s right to privacy.
The wordings of the Ordinance is very vague, leaving room for loopholes and ways for the government to reject applications. It appears to restrict the information more than allowing access to it.
The application process is tedious and complicated; this may discourage a layman from trying to access records. Moreover, not many ordinary citizens would like to spend money and time trying to gain access to information that is not easily obtainable. Due to the fact that is in an application procedure, it eliminates the uneducated of Pakistan from claiming this right, which is unjust.
http://www.crcp.org.pk/PDF%20Files/brochure%20foi%20final.PDF
(Ali Ebrahim- Lawyer – Discussion)

According to Dr. Gardezi, the Ordinance is ineffective because of the lack of awareness amongst the populace regarding it, thus resulting in sparse usage. There are also inherent flaws in the ordinance; there are too many exclusions, there is no penalty for denying a request or ignoring it; ombudsmen are not impartial as they themselves are a part of the bureaucracy, creating a conflict of interest that goes against the demands of a fair trial. The time frame for waiting for responses is too long and in the end, the complications within the process and the possibility of being fined disheartens the requester.

Are there other countries with FOI Ordinances/Bill?
There are almost 90 countries that have enacted a Freedom of Information Bill. The list of countries with RTI legislation can be found on Global Right to Information Rating.

What is the Constitutional Right to Information Article?
[18th Amendment, 2010] Article 19A of Pakistan’s Constitution states:

Right to information:
Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law
http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/constitution/part2.ch1.html

The Right to Information Article is a means to create a statute to formalise the implementation of the Freedom of Information Legislation..

How is the draft of the proposed RTI Bill 2013 similar or different than the Ordinance?
The draft bill is a little more refined than the Ordinance. The Ordinance was passed as a means of pacifying the foreign donors (Asian Development Bank) by Former President Musharraf. Therefore, the Ordinance is vague and complicated. The Right to Information Bill is a lot more specific, though not as much as it should be. The time frame for responses are shorter, there is an Information Commission body as opposed to the Ombudsman (only at provincial level though, the Federal government still has a Ombudsman), there is a penalty upon the officials for denying requests for no good reason, and if the application is sent to the wrong department, it is that department’s responsibility to send it to the right department within 5 days.

What happens to the Ordinance if the bill is passed?
The Right to Information Bill will not have any negative impacts and will in fact make the Right to Information stronger. If Federal legislation is passed, then provinces such as KPK and Punjab that do not have FOI bills will be required to follow federal legislation. It will bring about more accountability and transparency within the government.

How could the RTI be made stronger?
The Right to Information Draft Bill could be made stronger by:
1. Creating an impartial Information Review committee, which have a citizen as a part of the committee as well, in replacement of the Ombudsman. This will make the appeal process a lot stronger and would ensure results.
2. Allow for the RTI to be filled in local language, and have officers that would guide applicants on how to fill the form, therefore allowing access to everyone.
3. Making the process available online, and publishing results online so that the general public can view the process and success rates.
4. Limit exclusions and compel bodies and officers to give clearly explained reasons for rejection of application. If application is ignored, enforce penalty on bodies and officers.

*SHEHRI WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND THEIR HELP TO ALL THOSE WANTING TO FILE APPLICATIONS, FREE OF COST. PLEASE CONTACT THEM AT info@shehri.org