Seminar on Freedom of Information & Whistleblower Protection

Transparency International Pakistan (TI Pakistan) in collaboration with National Accountability Bureau (NAB) organized a seminar on Freedom of Information & Whistleblower Protection on January 24, 2015 at Pearl Continental Hotel. The important event was attended by around 130 participants from various sectors.

The chief guests at the seminar were Col(R) Sirajul Naeem (DG NAB Sindh), Sohail Mazaffar (Chairman TI Pakistan), Chief Justice (R) Haziqul Khari, Justice (R) Dr. Ghous Muhammad and Justice (R) Zia Pervaiz,(Trustees of TI Pakistan). The guest speakers at the event included Col (R) Sirajul Naeem (DG NAB Sindh), Mr. Sohail Muzaffar (Chairman, TI Pakistan), Saad Rashid (Executive Director, TI Pakistan), Osman A. Ansari (Program Manager, Bolo Bhi) & Sana Saleem (Director, Bolo Bhi), Arsalan Ali (Pakistan Press Foundation), Syed Adil Gilani (Advisor, TI Pakistan), Amer Ejaz (Executive Director, CPDI) and Maryam Javaid (Project Coordinator, TI Pakistan).

Transparency International-Pakistan recently published National Integrity System Annual Report 2014, which is a product of a two year extensive research. The focus of the research was primarily aimed at assessing the strengths and weaknesses in 13 Pillars that are the foundation of the integrity system of the country. Two major recommendations which came up after the assessment were to improve the existing laws of Right to Information and enactment of Whistleblower Protection. The proper implementation of the said recommendations will enhance public service delivery in the public and private sector. It will also play a pivotal role in combatting the menace of corruption from the country. In regards to the said purpose, in order to impart awareness amongst the masses, this important event was conducted with the active participation of various professionals.

The seminar commenced with the name of Allah in form of recital of the Quranic Ayaat by Tariq Mehmood. Mr. Sohail Muzaffar, Chairman TI-Pakistan started the session with his speech welcoming the participants and showing concern to eliminate the menace of corruption. He said that TI Pakistan has become well-known in a short span of time and is currently receiving various complaints regarding corruption. He urged the government to strengthen procedures on both provincial and federal level and amend the anti-corruption laws. He said that no country is 100% free of corruption therefore Pakistan must work towards achieving some sort of corruption free society.

Mr. Saad Rashid presented the summary of the NIS Report stating that 13 were assessed along three dimensions namely, capacity, governance and role. The 13 pillars included legislature, executive, judiciary, law enforcement agencies, election commission, ombudsman, supreme audit institutions, anti-corruption agencies, public sector, media, civil society, political parties and business. He added that the comparative scores indicated that the pillars were weak in functioning and therefore needs to be strengthened on priority basis. The key findings of the assessment involved strengthening the Right to Information Laws and enactment of Whistleblower Protection. He further stated that although Pakistan has ratified the UN Convention on Anti-Corruption, there is poor implementation with less effective results. The citizens of Pakistan continue to face the challenge of Right to Information as the laws existing in Pakistan are weak and too restrictive. He stated some recommendations which included making RTI reality, passing strong laws of RTI, challenge the existing laws and educate the people regarding RTI. He also recommended enacting the whistleblower protection and strengthening laws relating to anti-corruption.

Mr. Osman Ansari and Ms. Sana Saleem from Bolo Bhi shared their experience regarding RTI and what they had to go through to gain information. Ms. Sana Saleem gave a brief introduction of Bolo Bhi and its work online using technology to support human rights. She added that online media plays a vital role in creating awareness and knowledge. Mr. Usman stated the RTI is an inherited right in a democratic society. It is a disappointment that we have to fight for our fundamental right today while living in a democratic country. Keeping in view the objective of Bolo Bhi, as he added, our organization writes letters to concerned departments to gain information and file in RTI request. He further added that as a law student, he was taught that there are three pillars of the government; Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, amongst which the legislature is the supreme pillar. However, in Pakistan there exists a different phenomenon where the legislature seems to be absent, the executive weak and the judiciary lacking in power to perform its functions effectively.

Mr. Arsalan Ali gave a brief introduction of Pakistan Press Foundation. He also defined the working of PPF which involved assisting the development of independent media in Pakistan by conducting training program for journalists, carrying out projects in research and documentation and campaigning to defend and promote freedom of the press and freedom of information. He added that since the beginning, PPF has been monitoring, documenting and advocating freedom on information for media professionals. In the year 2013, PPF monitored, documented and advocated more than 60 cases of violation of access to information. In the year 2014, PPF made connections with provincial and federal interior ministries and wrote applications to release the Police Investigation Reports of murders cases of more than 65 journalists killed during last ten years in Pakistan. He further said that PPF filed various applications under their respective RTI Laws in four provinces out of which they received a positive response only from the KPK government.

After the tea break, Mr Adil Gilani defined the concept of whistleblowing. He defined it as raising a concern about within an organization or through an independent structure associated with it and giving information about illegal or underhand practices. He stated the key provision of the UNCAC relating to whistleblowing in article 33. Although Pakistan has signed and rectified the convention, there is no proper implementation. He added that the PM has committed to enact the whistleblower protection and Public Service Delivery Act. In this regards, he added, we should urge the government to take these steps. He briefed about the international whistleblower laws which included incentives for the whistleblower. It is therefore significant to enact the whistleblower protection and incentives in the law which will be fruitful for NAB as well.

Mr. Amer Ejaz was invited to brief the implementation of RTI in Pakistan. He said that it is a fundamental right and serves as oxygen for democracy. He continued briefing about the history of RTI in Pakistan saying that the FOI Ordinance came in Pakistan in the year 2002 where the FOI bill was passes as the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002. He stated that most importantly the government should provide productive disclosure which will result is a lesser need of filling RTI requests. Laws in Baluchistan, Sindh and on Federal level should be repealed as they are restrictive and weak laws.

Mr. Maryam Javaid presented the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Public Services Act 2014. The Right to Public Services Act came into force on 15th January 2014 with the objective of good governance and to ensure transparency in government institutions. She further added the aims which include better delivery of public services without delay, improved service delivery, restored citizens’ confidence in public offices and to make government functionaries responsive to the public. She concluded her presentation stating that it is a highly significant legislation which needs to be enacted in other provinces as well. Right to delivery of speedy public services is a basic right that every citizen deserves. The rest of the provinces should follow Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s example.

Col (R) Sirajul Naeem (DG NAB Sindh) initiated his presentation with an introductory video regarding NAB and its functions. He said that we should give appreciation to the present regime of NAB for their effective workings regarding the elimination of corruption. He added that as far as progress is concerned, things are moving in the right directions. He said that FOI will immensely help NAB as it is the right of the citizens and should be provided fairly. Whistleblowers are important applicants and therefore we must motivate people to report the wrong-doings taking place in the society. He added that NGOs and Civil Society Organizations are vital institutions as they provide the maximum form of evidence which is effective and useful. He said that the current situation is encouraging therefore effective change will come soon and we need your prayers and support in this. Whistleblower Protection is at present the utmost important law which must be included in the National agenda.

Chief Justice (R) Haziqul Khari shared his views saying indeed it is a very important meeting today and corruption is the main menace which must be eliminated immediately. He said that all of us are confronted with this menace. He added that the first duty of any public official is towards his country. He should have no fear of any government official or politician. If he works efficiently, many cases of corruption will and can be resolved. Justice (R) Zia Pervaiz shared his views stating that we are fortunate to be part of such an informative seminar. He added that the efforts made by us in the enactment of Punjab and KPK Right to Information laws are encouraging. Corruption is a major hindrance towards development and progress hence we must work towards a common resolution. Justice (R) Dr. Ghous Muhammad spoke about the whistleblower protection. He said that elimination of corruption is a universal message. He added that if the institution of education, judiciary and police are strengthened and free from corruption, then most of the issues will be resolved. There are good people in the judiciary but one cannot deny corruption. Our Quaid said in his speech “Corruption is a menace” and he was a man of integrity. He said that he prays for our higher officials to work honestly, transparently and openly in order to gain a corruption free society.

In the end a Question and Answer session was held where the audience was given a chance to raise their concerns for clarification. Mr. Saad Rashid presented the vote of thanks and expressed his gratitude towards NAB for collaborating actively in organizing the event with TI Pakistan.