Mukhtar Ahmad Ali
2005-06 International Policy Fellow
Open Society Promotion in Predominantly Muslim Societies working group
There is growing recognition among top policy makers in Pakistan that transparency and the citizens' right to information are critical for effectively combating corruption and providing good governance. Political parties and parliamentary institutes, however, remain weak after years of rule by a civil-military bureaucracy. The cause and result of this is an exclusive, non-participatory and non-transparent government system where a culture of secrecy and rampant corruption prevails. The underlying factors are a large number of restrictive laws, rules and government instructions. A weak legal and institutional framework for freedom of information exacerbates the problem. Despite many new laws being enacted, many are flawed, restrictive and ineffective. There is still no coherent policy via which to ensure transparency. At present the government appears content to maintain the current status quo, but even if this brings improvements they will be largely down to external pressure rather than a commitment to transparency and good governance. A gradual and decentralized policy may be the easiest type of reform to implement, but the risks outweigh the benefits.
A radical shift from secrecy to freedom of information is necessary. It would be the hardest policy to implement, but would hold the greatest promise of promoting good governance, improving public service delivery and building up public confidence in the government.