Access to information made free for citizens

Access to information made free for citizens

In a significant move aimed at enhancing transparency and facilitating citizens’ access to information, the federal government has declared the first 10 pages of requested information under the Access to Information Act, 2017 to be provided free of cost.

This decision was announced in a statement issued on Tuesday, marking a pivotal development in ensuring greater public accountability and empowerment.

According to the statement, federal public bodies are now obligated by law to furnish the initial ten pages of requested information under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 without any charge. Subsequently, a nominal fee of only two rupees per page will be levied for every additional page requested beyond the initial ten.

Moreover, the government has specified that federal public bodies will only charge the actual cost of providing information in physical or electronic format, including the cost of CDs, diskettes, cassettes, or any other electronic device, based on official procurement records. This measure aims to streamline the cost structure associated with accessing information and ensure affordability for citizens.

The Pakistan Information Commission, exercising its statutory powers conferred by Section 27 (b) of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 (XXXIV of 2017), has notified a comprehensive Schedule of costs. This schedule will be applicable to a wide array of entities, including Federal Ministries, attached Departments, Autonomous bodies, Courts, Commissions, and other institutions substantially funded by the government.

Furthermore, the Schedule of costs will extend its applicability to special institutions, government-owned companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) significantly financed by the government. This holistic approach ensures uniformity and fairness in the provision of information across diverse sectors and entities.

In a statement issued by the Chief Information Commissioner, it was emphasized that citizens would no longer be burdened with upfront fees when filing information requests under the newly notified Schedule of costs. This marks a departure from previous practices where citizens were required to deposit a fee of Rs. 50 at the time of submitting an information request to a Federal Public body under the Freedom of Information Rules 2004.

The previous fee requirement was identified as a significant barrier hindering the exercise of the right to access information, as enshrined in Article 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. By eliminating this financial hurdle, the government aims to promote greater transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement in matters of public importance.

This progressive step underscores the government’s commitment to promoting open governance and empowering citizens through unfettered access to information. It is expected to foster a culture of transparency, responsiveness, and trust between the government and the public, ultimately contributing to the overall democratic governance framework of Pakistan.