Public interest, not national security, should define RTI law, says Farhatullah Babar

ISLAMABAD: Senator Farhatullah Babar on Tuesday said public interest should form the basis of Right to Information (RTI) law.

“The considerations of so-called national security as defined by the security establishment is the single most formidable impediment in the way of freedom of expression and the right to information,” he said while speaking at a seminar organised by the Rawalpindi Bar Association in the district courts.

Senator Farhatullah Babar disclosed that when the Senate Committee on Information took up consideration of the RTI law, the Defense Ministry formally asked the Committee not to proceed without first obtaining NOC from it.

He said that the RTI was also a societal issue as information is power and no one wants to share or part with power. “Until recently even the Parliament while striving for right to information legislation was reluctant to make public information about the attendance of the members, a situation that had changed only recently,” he added..

He said questions asked in the Senate about the suo moto cases taken up by superior courts were not replied to on the ground that it militate against independence of judiciary. “Not long ago the registrar of the Supreme Court declined to submit accounts before the Public Accounts Committee,” he added.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said parliamentary questions such as whether an inquiry had been held into the Kargil misadventure and several other similar questions were not answered on the grounds of national security.

He said that the contempt of court law in its present form also militate against the principle of right to expression and right to information and asked the lawyers community to give a thought to it and develop recommendations for amendments in the contempt of court law.

He also asked the lawyers to investigate as to why the RTI laws had been legislated in the provinces but not at the federal level despite the fact that a consensus draft RTI law had been formulated at the Senate Information Committee and the government had promised to introduce it as government Bill in the Parliament. “Is it because the security related issues are exclusively within the domain of the federal government and faced difficulties in legislating RTI despite promises and endorsing the draft Bill,” he asked. “We need to redefine the term ‘national security’ and instead make public interest the supreme consideration in legislating the RTI law,” he said.

Source: The News

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