Farhatullah Babar for balance between national security interest and public interest

RTI should be based on the principles of maximum disclosure of information, minimum exemptions and a credible system of appeals against decisions of the executive on withholding information.

Farhatullah-Babar

Islamabad Nov 25, 2016: Senator Farhatullah Babar today called for an international conference of commonwealth countries on “National Security Interests Vs Public Interest” to propose a balance between the national security interest and public interest as well as minimum standards for freedom of expression, the right to information and space for the Civil Society Organizations.

He was speaking at the joint Senate and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) seminar on “Transparency Standards in Democracies in Transition” held in a local Islamabad hotel today.

He said that the return on Thursday of National Command Authority (NCA) Bill by Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani to the Defence Committee for reconsideration laid the basis for a healthy and robust discussion on upholding people’s welfare and rights while showing sensitivity to the national security concerns.

Although cleared by the Senate Defence Committee the NCA (Amendment) Bill 2016 was returned to the Committee Thursday for re-consideration.

He said that Rule of law, Transparency, Accountability and Public Representation are pillars of good governance. Lack of accountability, sacred cow syndrome and inequality before the law which eroded trust in democratic institutions were linked to transparency. And so are Issues like weak public representation, weak rule of law and shrinking space for civil society organizations intricately linked to transparency.

On steps to ensure transparency Farhatullah Babar proposed that the RTI should be based on the principles of maximum disclosure, of information, minimum exemptions and a credible system of appeals against decisions of the executive on withholding information..

Without freedom of speech and freedom of expression there can be no transparency he said.

Although freedom of expression was often curtailed on various pretexts the single biggest impediment was an artificial and unilaterally imposed definition of national security.

He said that even the media resorted to self censorship to address state’s real and imagined concerns about national security which the state has unilaterally imposed without debate whether it was justified or not. Such is the all pervasive consideration for un-defined national security.

A potentially threat to freedom of expression is the recent enactment of laws to control cyber crimes. Laws to curb cyber crime have actually become instruments for stifling freedom of expression. While new technological inventions necessitated new laws it also afforded another excuse to the executive to clamp new curbs on freedoms of expression he said.

He said that Civil society organizations worked for protecting people’s interest and rights and enhanced participation. Enabled by the freedoms of expression and right of peaceful assembly they are actually enhancing public participation on the one hand and transparency on the other. Reducing their space is rejecting people’s participation and undermining transparency, he said adding that was why the theme for the 21015 International Democracy Day was ‘space for civil society’.

If democracy is all about more participation, more transparency and more accountability then the civil society organizations must be provided maximum space, he said.

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