The right to know
March 29, 2019
Well done Punjab Information Commission
March 29, 2019


The right to know


In a country with no formal mechanisms for obtaining  correct and factual information,  the reliability of any  piece of  information  gets   directly dependent on the distance and the personal relationship one enjoys with the  original source.  This has led us to become a society constantly  hungry for knowing  ‘the real story’,   apprehensive of what appears on the media   and perpetually suspicious of leaders and events that make these headlines.


Freedom of information is a constitutional right of all citizens.  In Pakistan it is grudgingly granted  by law (The Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002), and yet more reluctantly used by the citizens. The 2002 Ordinance is supported by Freedom of Information Rules 2004, as well as provincial and local government laws such  as   the Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006  and   Section 137 of Sindh Local Government Ordinance 2001. The ordinance allows any citizen the right to request for information regarding workings, facts or data relating to any government function or functionary. Providing accurate and factual  information makes the government, in a sense, directly  accountable to the general public.


It would not be realistic to imagine that even an apparently simple  task of asking for a specific information would be spared the usual  inept and bureaucratic complications by the clerks who write the laws and procedures in Pakistan. One has to fill a ‘challan’, deposit Rs.50 in the National or State Bank, fill Annexure 1 of the FOI Rules 2004, attach an NIC photocopy, and post or deliver the documents at the address of the department that is responsible for keeping the required record or information.  The concerned department must give a certified copy of the record or the required information within 21 days of the receipt of the request.   Appeals of delay or denial can be made to the Wafaqi Mohtasib (Ombudsman), who has    the power to issue  binding orders. Officials that destroy records with the intention of preventing disclosure can be fined and imprisoned for up to two years.


How robust is the freedom of Information Ordinance and does it deliver what it promises. Following are some of the requests for information, pertaining to some of the much talked about citizens’ concerns, that have been recently taken up under the Freedom of Information Ordinance.


  1. A large number of TV and newspaper advertisements were sponsored by different government ministries and departments  to mark Mr.  Asif Ali Zardari’s  completion of one year as the President of Pakistan. These  advertisements appeared in various TV channels and newspapers on 9th, 10th and 11th  of September 2009.   How much  amount was paid to each TV Channel and each newspaper for carrying these advertisements on  the 9th,  10th and 11th of September 2009. (Info sought from Federal and Sindh Information ministries)


  1. How many Ghost / non-functioning schools exist in the province of Sindh.   What amount was shown as expenditure on these schools in 2006, 2007 and 2008.    How many ghost school teachers are receiving the salary  benefits, although they are not performing teaching duties.   How many students could have been accommodated if  these schools were functioning? (Info sought from Sindh Education ministry)


  1. How much total effluent (industrial and municipal) is produced in Karachi. How much of it is fully treated and how much of it goes out as untreated effluent.   How much of the treated effluent is recycled (if at all) and  used for what purpose?   Please give the number and names of  factories in Karachi  which are in full compliance of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS).  Please give the number and names  of factories in Karachi  which are in NOT in  full compliance of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS).    Please give the number and names of  factories that are not compliant with NEQS and have been served notices by your department. (Info sought from  Sindh EPA)



  1. How many bullet proof cars were imported by federal and provincial governments in Pakistan in 2006,  2007, 2008 and 2009.  What was the total amount spent by Government on importing these bullet proof cars. (Info sought from Federal Commerce and Interior ministries)



  1. What expenditure was  incurred in Karachi in  the last 5 years  on building each of the three categories of infrastructure. a.  underpasses and fly-overs.   b.  tracks for cyclists and  c.  toilets for public. (Info sought from Karachi District Coordination Officer)


  1. Give the names of MNAs, MPAs and Senators who hold nationality / green card/ passport or permanent status for any other country besides  holding a Pakistan nationality. (Info sought from Federal Interior ministry)


  1. Provide the list of assets (property, cash, jewellery,  shares,  and others)   declared by President Asif Ali Zardari before or after assuming  the post of President of Pakistan, and also the  details of taxes paid by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari in 2006, 2007 and 2008. (Info sought from Election Commission and FBR)



So far the experience of the  Freedom of Information Act has been  arduous and unrewarding. An earlier attempt by Zahid Abdullah of Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives was not honoured by the law ministry.   The  applicant had sought a certified copy of the list containing the names and addresses of lawyers, along with the total amount paid to them, hired by the federation of Pakistan in the Supreme Court of Pakistan from Oct 1, 2002 to March 20, 2008. The Freedom of Information  law  thus sits on the books of statute, like the Rs.320 million water fountain on the shores of Karachi, looking smug and pretty , but doing no good to the ordinary citizens of Pakistan.  Let the government answer the above seven questions and prove that it has a Freedom of Information law that works.



Naeem Sadiq

Dawn,  Sept 2009