A delegation from Pakistan visited UNESCO on 14 November to share how the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province has generated evidence and data on how to improve the implementation of the Access to Information (ATI) law, inspiring other provinces in the country to take the same action.
The mission, comprising Shaukat Ali Yousafzai, Minister of Information, and Azmat Hanif Orakzai, Chief Information Commissioner – both of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, and Mahboob Qadir Shah, Chief Information Commissioner of Punjab, met with UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Moez Chakchouk.
Orakzai described advances in his province as being like “breaking the sound barrier”, in a way that the right to information (RTI) had started to “reverse the long-standing culture of secrecy in Pakistan and to forge a new relationship between government and the people based on trust-building through transparency and citizen engagement in public decision-making”.
The experience in Pakistan aligns with the UN Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Agenda, which noted that many of the investments to achieve the SDGs will take place at the subnational level and be led by local authorities.
“This is a very good example of how access to information laws can be monitored at the local level,” said Chakchouk, congratulating the delegation for the initiative with its innovative methodology and its results achieved.
Providing background, Orakzai said: “The Provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa enacted this [Right to Information] Law in 2013, even before the start of the SDG indicator 16.10.2.”
Despite Pakistan being an early adopter in South Asia of a Right to Information (RTI) law in 2002, the use of the law by its citizens was still limited, according to a report shared by the mission.
Accordingly, the KP Province then adopted its own RTI Law and appointed an independent oversight body, the RTI Information Commission (KP RTIC). Civil society and the media have since made many requests, appealed against refusals to disclose information, and used the law to promote government accountability and inform citizens, Orakzai explained.
The Punjab Province also enacted its RTI law in 2013, and as of today, all the jurisdictions in Pakistan except Baluchistan have adopted RTI laws.
After five years, it was time to assess how well the laws are doing. The first assessment then took place in the KP Province using an extensive methodology developed with a multi-stakeholder approach. It showed that the level of subnational governance is significant to bridging the gap between central governments and citizens, and how this can support the achievement of the SDGs through action from the bottom up.
The monitoring experience was chosen among 700 projects to be presented at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum. Within the framework of the Forum, UNESCO joined the Pakistani mission in a panel discussion on how to monitor the implementation of ATI laws.
The delegation to UNESCO was accompanied by Marcel Haessler of German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) which supported the monitoring, and Toby Mendel of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) who designed the methodology.
UNESCO has been designated by the UN General Assembly as the custodian agency for global monitoring of Indicator 16.10.2. The Organization leads the monitoring and reporting on access to information via its Communication and Information Sector’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).
With the support from German’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), UNESCO”s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) is currently strengthening the capacity of Member States in six African countries in monitoring and reporting progress on public access to information.