Whistleblowers using the proposed Freedom to Information law in Pakistan would get legal protection, unlike India, where authorities haunt regular information seekers.
The new draft Freedom of Information Bill, 2005 has a special provision to protect information seekers who expose corruption while using the law, said Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, executive director, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, Pakistan.
In India, Right To Information (RTI) activists, like Mujibur Rehman, who exposed irregularities in the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, have been under attack from authorities. In Uttar Pradesh, RTI activists have even been jailed for seeking information from the police.
Magsasay award winner Arvind Kejriwal said instances of the government harassing RTI activists are innumerable. “It is because there is no protection under the law for information seekers,” he added. There is only a government resolution to protect whistleblowers.
Another Magsasay award winner Aruna Roy, who is also an RTI activist, said fear of exposure of wrongdoings makes government officials hostile towards information seekers. Both Kejriwal and Roy agreed the RTI Act should provide legal safeguards to whistleblowers, like Pakistan has done.
Pakistan's draft Bill, to be affective soon, gives the office of the ombudsman — the final authority in implementation of the law — the power to ask the government to provide protection to information seekers. The RTI Act provides no such powers to the Central Information Commission.
Ali told HT Pakistan’s law was inspired from the RTI Act, as it allows file notings to be provided to citizens. “Our earlier Freedom to Information Ordinance, 2002 exempted file notings and minutes of meetings from disclosure. Considering the success of the RTI law in India, the draft allows disclosure of file notings,” Ali said.
Unlike India, where grassroots people seek information under RTI, use of Pakistan’s Freedom to Information Ordinance is limited to NGOs and activists.
Along with Pakistan, the success of RTI has helped Nepal and Bangladesh draft laws on a similar pattern. In Nepal, the law was notified last year but is yet to be made effective. In Bangladesh, it was notified in October.
“We had even called Central Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah for consultations. We took a lot of things from the Indian law,” said Sahin Alam, a member of the law drafting committee in Bangladesh.