Empowering women

Empowering women through use of RTI Act

In a remote village (Chak No. 319 GB) of Tehsil Pir Mehal, District Toba Tek, Punjab, Zahida Bibi lives in a mud-bricks house with her four daughters and a son. To make her ends meet, she works as domestic workers in different households to earn money and support her husband who is differently abled. But she also makes sure to provide education to her children. The two elder daughters have completed intermediate (12 grade) while others are studying in 6th and 9th grades. Zahida Bibi is known to be among those few women who never give up and keep fighting against the odds of life. However, due to the pandemic, the last two years have not been easy for the family as they experience serious financial stress.

Zahida Bibi’s two elder daughters want to play their part to financially support the family. However, they neither have required minimum education to get a decent job, nor the skills to start their own home based business venture. One day, Sumera (the elder daughter) heard about a vocational training institute, a government-run institute in the area that trains women to acquire skills needed to start home based businesses. When Sumera told her mother (Zahida Bibi) about the institution, she immediately hesitated to give her the permission. Zahida Bibi had no idea about the institute; how it functions, whether it is safe or not, how will the offered courses help her daughter and etc.

empowering women

During the same time, Transparency International Pakistan organized a Right to Information workshop in Pir Mehal. In all our outreach activities, we encourage equal participation of women. In this event, which was held on 30th May 2021, 11 females including Zahida Bibi participated. She learned how RTI law enables citizens to acquire information from public bodies. After the event she decided to file an RTI application with the Vocation Training Institute, Punjab to acquire necessary information. Our partner NGO, Social Welfare Society, helped her draft and file an RTI application under Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. Her RTI application requested the following information:

  • When was the institution established?
  • How many students have graduated from Vocation Training Institutes in Punjab?
  • How many graduates of VTIs in Punjab have acquired jobs
  • How many graduates of VTIs in Punjab are running their businesses and which
  • courses they offer?

To her surprise, the Punjab Vocational Training Institute (VTI) department provided her the required information which established her confidence in the functioning of such institutions. Normally, public institutions are reluctant to provide any sort of information verbally, let alone in writing under the RTI law despite the fact that the law mandates them to provide the requested information.

A simple act of the provision of information regarding the functioning of the institution enhanced Bilqis confidence and she not only felt comfortable with her daughter taking admission in the institute, but strongly felt that such an opportunity to acquire vocational training will empower her daughter to initiate her business venture and help overcome family’s financial woes.

The institute offers free of cost courses and provide a monthly stipend of Rs.500/- to its students. Sumera has taken an admission in the Beautician course, and aspires to open a Beauty Parlor at home to support her family. On a broader scale, the whole story motivates mothers like Zahida Bibi to confidently send her daughters to these institutes where they can learn different skills and start supporting their family during the tough times of Covid-19. TI Pakistan will continue empowering women so they can exercise their rights and make good use of the opportunities to change their social status.

Government withdraws Six non transparent amendments made in The Companies Act, 2017

From the outset, the current PTI-led government has been very vocal regarding fight against corruption. The Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his inaugural address, stated that ― “Our state institutions will be so strong that they will stop corruption. Accountability will start with me, then my ministers, and then it will go from there”. In fact, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had contested the General Elections 2018 on the premise of fighting corruption and ensuring transparency and accountability across state institutions.

However, many of the policies of the government stand contrary to its public declarations about fighting corruption in Pakistan. One such example is the recent passage of amendments in Companies Act 2017 enacted through Companies (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 and promulgated on April 30, 2020. Through a Presidential Ordinance, in total 10 sections including 172, 182, 186, 187, 244, 245, 282, 452, 456, 459 and 461 were purportedly amended. Transparency International Pakistan observed that the modifications in the said provisions is against the norms of business in commercial/corporate activities in Pakistan and may provide undue benefit to the wrongdoers.

TI Pakistan actively took up this issue with the federal government and wrote to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and the Supreme Court of Pakistan to highlight its concerns and suggest areas for improvement. As a result of TI Pakistan’s consistent advocacy, the federal government reviewed these amendments in light of TI Pakistan objections, and on 9 July, 2020 amended the Companies Act 2017, withdrawing several amendments inserted in the ordinance on April 30, 2020. These included clauses related to disqualification of persons who enter into plea bargain with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). In total, the government has withdrawn six amendments to Companies Act 2017 including Section 172(m), Section 181, Section 186 and 187, sections 279 to 282, Section 452 and amendment to 461.

Section 172(m) that relates to disqualification of a person to hold the office of a director of a company is restored in Companies Act. This section was deleted from the Act through Companies Amendment Ordinance 2020 paving the way for persons who have been convicted under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO 1999), to be appointed as Director.

Section 181 that related to protection to independent and non-executive directors has also been restored through the Second amendment Ordinance. This Section was introduced in 2017 to protect independent and non-executive directors from acts, omissions and commission which occurred without their knowledge or consent.

The change in the Section 452, Companies’ Global Register of Beneficial Ownership has also been reverted. The SECP through earlier amendment had made Section 452 less stringent as the requirement for company’s directors, shareholders, or officers to report their shareholdings or any other interest in a foreign company was reduced to only those who may have shareholding of 10 percent or more in a foreign company or body corporate. TI Pakistan had objected that this will allow Benami account holders to run companies in Pakistan and may encourage Money laundering.

While the government has withdrawn six amendments to Companies Act 2017, it is important that remaining of the ten sections included in the amendment of April 30th should be amended to their original provisions under the Companies Act 2017 as they stand contrary to the rule of law in Pakistan.

For more than a decade, TI Pakistan has been striving for a rule of law and corruption free Pakistan. It is important to emphasis that having strong laws is the first step towards ensuring transparency and accountability in Pakistan.

Encroachment of Public Spaces

Encroachment of public spaces is common, rather rampant in Pakistan. Big cities are worst-hit from such illegal occupations. Let alone physical impediments, the general public faces great mental stress. A lot has been cried about in the mainstream that intrusion of these public spaces cannot be done alone without the support of ‘high ups’. Consequently, the citizens are provided with facilities like Complaint Cells to register their grievances and hold the authorities accountable.

Transparency International (TI), an international watchdog working on anti-corruption agenda around the globe, with its local chapter active in Pakistan, received a complaint on September 12, 2019 from a resident of Johar Town, Lahore about encroachment of a road by a retired police officer.

The complainant had erstwhile lodged similar complaints with the Provincial Chief Minister’s complaint cell, Lahore Development Authority, and Police Helpline against the illegal impasse of public road which has been blocked by fixing benches, placing pots and constructing a gate. Not only this, but the alleged officer, as per the complainant, threatened the nearby residents of serious consequences if any complaint was lodged against him. Despite several complaints, nothing has been done by the said authorities to remove those obstacles. The complainant reached out to TI- Pakistan through a written complaint with supporting evidences with a request to look into this matter to restore public access to the road.

Picture shows the obstructed public space by a citizen
Picture shows the obstructed public space by a citizen

In response, TI Pakistan submitted a written complaint vide Letter No. A1FPV3GS dated September 16, 2019 addressed to the Chief Minister of Punjab to look into the matter and requested him to take pertinent actions as per the law. Through concentrated efforts of TI Pakistan, the access to encroached public space was efficaciously restored after the involvement of relevant government departments. Subsequently, the complainant hailed the efforts of Transparency International-Pakistan for raising their voice for this critical issue, highlighting the matter for the concerned authorities henceforth, assisting in the restoration of the public road.

Picture shows the action taken by the government department to restore public space
Picture shows the action taken by the government department to restore public space

It has often been observed that public servants, who are responsible to ensure good governance and efficient public service delivery are themselves involved in violating the law. In the absence of strong accountability mechanism, such violations are inevitable by those in power. But at the same time, it must also be noted that the key to fight against such malpractices, vigilant and responsible citizens play an indispensable part. TI-Pakistan believes that the Rule of Law is the only way of eliminating corruption and safeguarding good governance in the country.

Corruption in pharmaceutical sector

High healthcare cost in Pakistan is becoming a major financial burden on millions of households in the country. Pakistanis, on average, lose an equivalent to 49 years of healthy life per 1000 population due to ill-health and early life deaths. Behind these gloomy numbers lie the distressing stories of millions of people who cannot afford to pay high medical costs and are left to cut their lives short. This is not surprising for a country where public health delivery is deprived of quality, private healthcare is exorbitant and disparate, and national health insurance system lacks population outreach.

The recent recurrent undue hikes in drug prices in Pakistani market have further aggravated the public outcry at the state of healthcare affordability. The price surge, which has been witnessed over multiple phases across the retail outlets all over the country, is hitting the middle and low-income population the hardest. Many patients of diabetes, cardiac diseases, hepatitis, cancer, and gynecological-related problems are left with no choice but to pay out of pockets to buy medicines at over-inflated rates or else endanger their lives.

Transparency International Pakistan (TI-Pakistan) actively intervened in the issue after its Advocacy & Legal Advice Centre received a number of complaints from general citizens regarding the substantial increase of prices of drugs. It carried out a detailed research into the current Drug Pricing Policy to identify the loopholes in the pricing mechanism which has been adopted by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP).

TI-Pakistan discovered that the DRAP not only raised their prices three times in a row within a period of 12 months, but also revised the pricing policy to manipulate the price increase. As a result, in the pricing formula the mark up on the manufacturing cost increased five times from 70pc in 2015 to 240/355pc in 2018 even though the manufacturing cost had already accounted for the effect of inflation and devaluation in the formula. The increased factor multiplied the retail price of medicines of various categories by several folds.

The exploitation of the drug pricing formula within a short period to surge the drug prices is certainly linked with corruption in the pharmaceutical sector and the strong influence of the corrupt mafia to extort unfairly high prices from the ordinary people. Due to the absence of monitoring mechanism in the country to control illegally high drug prices and penalize the violation of drug policies, it is the ordinary citizen who has to pay the cost of the corruption in the pharmaceutical sector.

In an endeavor to break this cycle of exploitation and corruption in the pharmaceutical sector, TI-Pakistan undertook the process of probing with DRAP related to the recent increase in prices and the manipulation of the pricing formula by the pharma companies.

Throughout its involvement, TI-Pakistan actively pressed the DRAP, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, Government of Pakistan, and Pakistani media while also calling the attention of other key authorities including National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Supreme Court of Pakistan. TI Pakistan also gave an interview to the media which was published in the leading newspaper of Pakistan.

As a result of TI-Pakistan’s consistent efforts to keep surfacing the issue and questioning the concerned authorities, the Government of Pakistan finally imposed a 75 percent cap on the increase in drug prices.

By effectively advocating for putting a check on the illicit surge in drug prices, TI-Pakistan has not only put a check on illegally ever-increasing drug prices in Pakistan but also compelled the regulatory bodies to bring forth effective monitoring reforms to control pharmaceutical corruption and regulate the drug pricing mechanism in the country.

women democracy and corruption

Women, democracy and corruption

“Women are half the society. You cannot have a revolution without women. You cannot have democracy without women. You cannot have equality without women. You can’t have anything without women.” — Nawal El Saadawi

Putting an end to gender-based discrimination towards women is central to achieving sustainable and prosperous societies. Women and girls represent half of the society and, therefore, half of its potential. Without gender equality, the potential and representation of a substantive part of our society remains untapped.

UNICEF defines gender equality to be ‘that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections’. Gender equality is at the very heart of fundamental human rights and a new global development agenda. However, in a greater part of world including Pakistan the gender discrimination is still holding back women from an active and equal participation in public life.

Almost 48.8% of Pakistan’s population comprises of females. Yet, only 24.93% participate in the labor force (World Bank, 2017). Globally, Pakistan ranked at 166th in the female Labor Force Participation (LFP) rate out of 181 countries. Even the active female labor force is not fairly rewarded amidst a huge gender wage gap in Pakistan. According to International Labor Organization (ILO) report 2017, Pakistan has a wage inequality score (48.4%) in the lower-middle income countries which is not only the highest in this category but also higher than the global wage inequality score of 35.5%.

Similar scenario is pervasive regarding female political participation in Pakistan with merely 20.6% of parliamentary seats being held by women. The proportion is less than the world average of 23.6%. In terms of women participation in elections, the female voters’ turnout has been consistently low in Pakistan. During the recent General Elections 2018, only 46.89% of registered women voters casted their votes compared to 56.07% of their male counterparts. This happened despite the fact that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights and opportunities for women to participate in politics but the deep-seated gender inequality still inhibits women to level their participation in politics with that of their male counterparts.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan is the second worst country in the world in terms of gender equality, ranking 148 out of 149 countries in the latest Global Gender Gap Index. The index further ranks Pakistan at 146th in economic participation and opportunity, 145th in health and survival, 139th in educational attainment, and 97th in political empowerment. These statistics are indicative of a restricted economic and political environment for women in Pakistan, which is also confining the overall development potential of Pakistan.

Gender equality has emerged as the leading public discourse at local, national and global fronts. The Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to build peaceful societies and effective, corruption-free institutions, stresses the need of women-inclusive decision making at all levels. However, Pakistan stands far behind many other countries in controlling corruption and promoting democracy – the country has been globally ranked at 117th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2018 and ranked as low as 112th out of 167 countries on the latest Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. For the democracy to be sustainable and resilient in Pakistan, its political system must take into account the less heard, women voices.

On this women’s day let us reaffirm our commitment to a society where women and men can participate and have equal opportunities.

Breaking the Wheel of Injustice

Pakistan is mired in thousands of land and property disputes where a majority of real estate owners and allottees are either on the verge of losing their properties or have already lost them. Rampant corrupt practices manifest themselves in one or other forms i.e. fabricated or fraudulent land records; multiple registrations of the same land by different parties; inaccurate/arbitrary boundary demarcations leading to overlapping claims; and illegal land possession by the land grabbing mafia. It is estimated that 80 percent of Pakistan’s civil case load is to do with land acquisition and titling disputes. A significant proportion of land disputes emerge from land grabbing and misappropriation of property by the builders. It gets worse when thousands of people have to run after the builders to gain possession of their legally-owned property. Typically, such can take four to ten years to resolve.

Amongst these struggling owners is the story of Mr. Adnan Qureshi, who had faced countless hurdles to recover the possession of a plot which was in his late father’s name under a housing scheme approved by Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA). The plot was booked by Adnan’s father, Mr. Tariq Qureshi, in 2004 with all the installments paid by the deceased except the last one while he was diagnosed with cancer. Four years later, Mr. Tariq died leaving his young sons unaware of the property and its pending ownership. A few years later when Qureshi learnt that his father had left a property behind him with its possession still pending due to non-payment of just one last installment, he approached the builder requesting them to settle down the issue either by repaying him the amount or allocating a plot worth the price that was paid by his father. However, not surprisingly, despite repeated visits and meeting with the management of the builder company for three years, Adnan and his siblings have not been able to claim an inch of land or corresponding repayment.

The real estate market in Pakistan has expanded significantly over the past three decades built on the lifelong savings of millions of ordinary citizens like Late Mr. Qureshi, and so the dispute continues between the builders and property buyers who invested a large chunk of their wealth hoping to secure a shelter on their heads for future or for their off springs to live and start a family. Yet, in the absence of a legal cover to ensure protection of their civic rights, majority of property owners and allottees see their investment worth billions of rupees in doldrums when the builders start wavering to give them full possession of their property within the expected time line or halts the construction halfway into the project. The only option these unfortunate land owners and their families are left with is to wait a lifetime to get full possession of their properties or to pay flat extralegal charges in the disguise of ‘transfer fees’.

Fortunately, Adnan decided to approach Transparency International Pakistan to raise his matter with the concerned authorities for a timely resolution. TI Pakistan willingly intervened in the matter and approached the top management of the housing company which had seized the property and money deposited by Qureshi’s late father. TI-Pakistan requested and pressed the project builders to negotiate with the aggrieved party and resolve the matter as soon as possible. The issue was also highlighted by TI-Pakistan to multiple authorities of Punjab including Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) and Registrar Cooperative Housing Society, Lahore.

Within a week of TI-Pakistan’s interference into the matter, Rawalpindi Development Authority responded back intimating the builders to brief the authority on Mr. Qureshi’s case. Through its involvement, TI-Pakistan effectively acted as an arbiter amongst the aggrieved party, builder and the authority and finally opened up negotiations between the parties – something Adnan and his brothers had been waiting for as long as over three years.

Consequently, these negotiations brought good tidings for Late Mr. Tariq’s family. Adnan was finally able to recover the entire amount paid by his deceased father redeeming his father’s lifelong savings just some weeks after TI-Pakistan’s intervention.

Corruption in the water sector

Corruption in the water sector

Veena Kumari, a 45-year old lady must walk three to four kilometers on a regular basis to fetch water in a small village where the lack of availability of safe drinking water compels many to consume contaminated water. Sadly, thousands of other people in Sindh province like Veena Kumari stand at risk of consuming unsafe water.

In Veena Kumari’s own village Khanwa, Rajoo Khanani, district Badin Sindh, over 200 households comprising of minorities and marginalized communities have severely been affected by inadequate access to clean drinking water. Being populated in a rural and underprivileged region, the resources accessible to the residents to make a living are restricted to agricultural means only, which too are under the threat of losing productivity due to lack of irrigation owing to the prolonged water shortage.

What is more appalling is that nothing is spared from this unsafe water, be it households, hospitals or educational institutions. According to the latest report of Judicial Commission on water submitted to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, “Out of 336 potable water samples collected from various areas of Sindh, 251 were found unsafe and only 85 were safe for human consumption”. In Khanwa too, the killer water has exposed the residents to a risk of different communicable diseases such as Typhoid, Cholera, Jaundice, and Malaria to name a few.

Not only the shortage of water is a challenge, but poor, marginalized community in village Khanwa is often double hit by the demand of bribes from state authorities or water mafia who control the water supply. For instance, Manoj, a 30-year old villager, must pay Rs. 50 on a daily basis to buy water. Many villagers, however, find it extremely unaffordable to pay this amount which would cost PKR 300,000 (€ 1,882) per month and PKR 3,600,000 (€ 22,665) per year.

The locals of Khanwa were desperately in need of voicing their concerns on lack of clean and drinkable water in the village to the concerned government representatives. However, for years they were neither able to approach nor have been reached by any public official. That’s where Transparency International Pakistan played its part.

TI Pakistan had set up a Mobile Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (ALAC) Camp at Khanwa village in February 2018 to hear the concerns of the citizens who visited the camp and register their complaints regarding lack of basic facilities in their town. TI Pakistan received several complaints from the villagers regarding unavailability of water.

TI Pakistan highlighted the issue to Chief Minister Sindh and other concerned public authorities requesting them to intervene in the matter. TI Pakistan representatives followed up with the villagers and facilitated them individually to write letters to the Sindh government. Multiple public departments got involved in the matter including Public Health Engineering department, Water Commission, and Irrigation Department, Government of Sindh.

As a result of these consistent efforts, Sindh government responded in just over a month requesting the Public Health Engineering Department to build water pipeline and tanks in the village. By January 2019, a water pipeline, connected with water purification plant in Rajoo Khanani, and water tanks have been built in Khanwa.

Today, after ten months of struggle and TI Pakistan’s proactive advocacy with the government authorities; neither Veena Kumari walks three to four kilometers for a bucket of water nor Manoj has to pay a bribe to access clean water. As the public authorities have now ensured that the villagers have free access to drinkable water.

A Little Act of Bravery

A Little Act of Bravery Ali Asghar Story

Corruption is rampant in Pakistan and has infiltrated every aspect of public life in the country. This pandemic has become the norm which has come to be accepted by Pakistani citizens as ‘business as usual’. Unfortunately, the people who are struggling to make ends meet are the losers of the system as they are denied their fundamental rights granted to them by the State. In order to defeat corrupt practices, the citizens of the country need to take a stand against this malpractice and voice their displeasure at the expense of the corrupt.

Take the story of Ali Akbar, a poor farmer from Punjab, who decided to fight a corrupt act in 2013 brought about by an introduction of a scheme by the Government of Punjab to give financial aid to deprived farmers. Being uneducated and poor, Ali Akbar was eligible for the scheme. Under this scheme, the eligible farmers were granted a distribution token which they had to collect from a camp set up near a College in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan. The funds were to be given only to the farmers who had received a token. However, Ali soon realized that the process was not going to be smooth. The ‘Patwari’, a local public officer, was in charge of distributing the final token for the funds to the eligible candidates in a transparent manner; instead, he demanded a bribe of Rs.2000 from Ali if he wished to receive the token. Ali soon came to the realization that the ‘Patwari’ was asking for a bribe from every eligible candidate for the scheme who came to receive their funds that day.

Ali recalled that he had heard about an organization which took corruption related complaints so he rang up the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) helpline at Transparency International Pakistan. The ALAC Team advised him not to pay any illegal gratification to the ‘Patwari’ in order to collect his token. Ali provided the staff member with the contact details of the ‘Patwari’. The ALAC team rang the ‘Patwari’ to inform him of complaints received from eligible farmers alleging his soliciting bribes from eligible candidates. However, the short conversation ended without an admission of guilt by the ‘Patwari’.

A few days later, on the advice of the ALAC team, Ali re-visited the camp to receive his token, with no intention of being bullied into paying a bribe to the ‘Patwari’. ALAC also advised Ali to report any harassment he might witness at the camp; however, there was no further hindrance in obtaining the token. Ali excitedly informed ALAC that he was able to receive his token without the demand of a bribe by the ‘Patwari’.

Just like Ali Asghar, thousands of Pakistanis are victims of widespread corruption on a daily basis. ALAC was established in 2009 to provide the common man with the tools to stand up to corruption at the grass root level by offering ethical and legal advice. ALAC has received thousands of complaints since its inception and has been able to successfully intervene to help those whose lives are being made difficult by venal public officials. The bravado of Ali Asghar goes to show how citizens can end corruption by the simple act of refusing to give in to illicit demands. We hope the story of Ali Asghar will encourage others to contact the ALAC helpline for expert legal advice for the corruption they may encounter.

Citizens Activism for Improved Health Services

Citizens Activism for Improved Health Services

One of the most oft-quoted problems received by the Advocacy and Legal Advice center at Transparency International Pakistan is that of the deplorable state of the health sector. The problems usually fall under a wide spectrum of specific issues: doctors’ absenteeism, lack of availability of beds, substandard treatment facilities, lack of rapport between doctors and patients and lack of cleanliness. Since many years, various reports have consistently highlighted the poor state of government-run hospitals. For instance, according to a recent study titled “Ranking Web of World Hospitals” an initiative of Cybermetrics Lab, research groups of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cienti cas (CSIC), only four government-run hospitals are among the top 20 in Pakistan. The best among these four ranks 5,911 in the world.

While infrastructure is a challenge in many government hospitals, more serious problem that patients visiting government hospitals face is that of doctors’ absenteeism and inadequate staff. Though legally, doctors in public hospitals are bound not to work in private clinics, but lack of transparency and proper enforcement of rules and regulations have allowed many doctors to continue their practices in private clinics during the time when they are supposed to be present at the public hospitals. One such case that we have come across was during the Mobile ALAC organized in Osta Muhammad, a sub division of Jaffarabad, Balochistan.

The aim of the Mobile ALAC is to provide a service that will be so unique to the citizen that it cannot do anything but yield favourable results for the aggrieved. Thus, at the outset, this activity intends to disseminate information and/or legal advice to different groups of people in different localities. This has been advantageous in gathering information or issues that are faced by citizens in regions where basic services are not even available.

During the camp in Osta Muhammad, arranged in January 2017, the ALAC received a number of complaints about the poor condition of civil hospital in Osta Muhammad. People informed TI Pakistan that the hospital not only lacks even the basic equipment such as ultrasound machine, X-Ray machine, availability of beds and medicines, but also the doctors were running their own private clinics. The hospital doesn’t even have a single ambulance available for the population of more than a hundred thousand people living in that area.

Based on these complaints, TI Pakistan took up the matter with the concerned authorities by writing a letter. In response to our letter, the concerned authorities came into action and formed a committee to take prompt actions to redress this issue. After four months since the writing of TI Pakistan’s letter, the citizens of district Osta Muhammad informed TI Pakistan that the condition of this government Hospital was far much better than it was four months ago. The absenteeism of doctors had ended; doctors were now visiting the patients in the hospital regularly. Availability of medicines had also improved.

The Ministry of Health Balochistan through a recent press release has banned the private practices of doctors in the day time and has given instructions to the district administration for its effective implementation. It was also stated that the Assistant Commissioners will check the validity and other pre-requisites of private clinics.

In a nutshell, this story highlights the fact that though citizens have fundamental rights whereby they are entitled to essential services by the government, these are not always delivered to citizens for some reason or another. In these situations, people need to come together in order to voice their grievances to get noticed and get the desired result.

Empowering Citizen’s Against Corruption

For any society to flourish, it is imperative that its people are given the right to hold their rulers accountable. In practical and simple terms, this means there are no restrictions on the kind of questions citizens ask from their government. It has been said time and again that without the free flow of speech and information, a state cannot realistically solve its problems. The argument for the free flow of information is a rational one. Free and transparent information brings out the truth for all to know. Obstruction of information can lead to abuse of power and squashing of citizens’ rights.

While the post 2013 elections period has been promising for the right to access to information movement in Pakistan. Soon after the elections, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Punjab led the way by passing internationally acclaimed Right to Information (RTI) laws and setting up information commissions. However, there is a need to empower people to stand up for themselves and demand these laws for themselves. Keeping this in view, Transparency International Pakistan is doing all it can to impact the discourse and dialogue in Pakistan regarding these laws. We have been working with the relevant stakeholders especially youth, women and the general public to equip them with relevant skills and knowledge on how they could hold government accountable using the RTI laws.

TI Pakistan staff member giving a RTI training
TI Pakistan staff member giving a RTI training

Moreover, for any legislation to be effective enough, it is fundamental that people are aware and empowered enough to take advantage of it. Though, in Pakistan, in recent years, there has been much emphasis on legislation but the need to ensure greater outreach of these laws is highly under shadowed. To fill this void, TI Pakistan under its flagship program namely Citizens Voice Against Corruption (CVAC) had envisioned a training program on Right to Information to raise awareness amongst citizens of the basic rules of writing complaints and enable them to write applications to the concerned authority. To date, there have been multiple training sessions conducted across Pakistan (rural and urban areas). As a result of which, TI Pakistan has successfully empowered thousands of citizens to ask questions from their government, bringing much-needed transparency in the otherwise opaque functioning of the government in the country.

It is also encouraging to see the impact of these trainings. One such success story is a case of Mr. Sher Khan who attended TI Pakistan’s recent Right to Information (RTI) workshop in Burewala, Punjab. After the workshop, he was well informed about the RTI laws and procedures to file RTI requests. He filed three RTI requests: One to the Provincial Highway department asking them for the budget of Kachi Paki Road and two RTI requests to the Town Municipal Administration, Burewala for the Town Budget 2015-16 and budget of Tehsil Headquarter Hospital of the last three years. After the struggle of two months, Sher Khan was able to receive information from the concerned departments.

TI Pakistan staff member giving a RTI training
TI Pakistan staff member giving a RTI training

This highlights the fact that for many, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged in Pakistan, the simple act of filing an RTI is an act of empowering themselves. There are many others like Sher Khan who have benefited from TI Pakistan’s RTI workshops enabling themselves to keep a check on government policies and decisions and expose misuse of public funds. In addition, a study conducted by Yale University reveals that “Access to information appears to empower the poor to the point where they receive almost the same treatment as middle-class individuals at the hands of civil servants. This is something that payment of a bribe cannot do.”

However, all this is conditioned upon the rigorous implementation of RTI laws. Only when these laws are adopted in both spirit and letter will Pakistan be able to overcome its problems of bad governance and the menace of corruption in the country.