Corruption in political parties a cause of apathy among Pakistanis
Citizens alienated, losing trust in their ability to bring about meaningful change
Corruption in Pakistani political parties is a cause of political apathy among masses and the rampant corruption at the institutional level has seeped down to the electoral processes because of which masses do not trust in the strength of their vote, renowned Pakistani human rights activist IA Rehman has said.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />Delivering keynote address on 'Civic Courage in Pakistan' at the National Conference on Active Citizenship arranged by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE), Rehman said that the civil society's ability to constructively participate in the affairs of Pakistan is increasingly squeezing and citizens are alienated and are losing their trust in their ability to bring about meaningful change. He said that finally the 160 million citizens of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Pakistan would be successful in the endeavours to realise dream of people-centred Pakistan. However, he added, till then many generations would have been destroyed. Rehman cited corruption in political parties, which are the legitimate platform for participation, as a cause of political apathy among masses. He argued that rampant corruption at the institutional level has seeped down to the electoral processes because of which masses did not trust in the strength of their vote. "Politics and institutions have been systematically destroyed in Pakistan," he opined. Women's rights activist Samar Minallah presented her efforts against the custom of Swara. Apart from shocking statistics regarding women's rights violations, numerous cases of Swara, a custom that is prevalent nationally under different names, were shared. The main focus of the presentation was the fact that Swara has no Islamic or/and cultural basis. Under Swara custom, girls are given in marriage to rival party for settling bloody feuds in different parts of Pakistan and while doing so even minor girls fall victim to the lifelong misery because of misdeeds of their family elders.The presentation concluded with a touching documentary 'Cultural Practices and the Status of Women: Swara -- A Case Study.' The presentation was an inspiring example of one individual taking up an issue, collaborating with the relevant actors and bringing about a change. Jami Chandi moderated the session.In the second half of the conference, the latest CCE publication entitled 'Freedom of Information: Five Years On -- Window Yet to be Opened' was launched. CCE Executive Director Zafarullah Khan shared the findings of the report.According to the report, the Freedom of Information Ordinance (FIO) promulgated on October 26, 2002 to make Pakistan the first South Asian nation to have a sunshine law continues to be barely implemented and underutilised even after five years. The report says till December 2006 only 59 information requests were made i.e. 11 requests per annum. Out of these only 40 were lucky to receive the requested information, it adds. "There appears to be a lack of political and parliamentary will, absence of financial resources, continuation of orthodox recordkeeping practices, missing trained human resources and reluctance to adopt open mindset for access to information," pinpoints the report. The report highlights that even attaining information about the status of FIO implementation was a challenge. "The CCE-Pakistan sent out a total of 16 letters to the secretaries of various ministries, two appellate bodies (Federal Ombudsman and Federal Tax Ombudsman) and two autonomous federal institutions. Only the Cabinet Division -- coordinating ministry for the implementation of the FIO 2002 -- provided the requested information. The report also uncovers the non-existence of any inter-ministerial coordination, evaluation and monitoring mechanism that could allow for the uniform and proactive implementation of the FIO," the report says. Another important finding of the report is the non-existence of an official translation of the FIO in Urdu or any local language of the country. Similarly, there was no proof of any publicity campaigns undertaken by the government to inform masses of the FIO. "Citizens simply do not know about the possibilities and potential of this law," says the report. The report also finds that there is still no official mechanism to train and ensure that each designated officer and other relevant staff responsible for handling FIO requests hold the necessary knowledge and skills to carry out their responsibilities. In addition to all this, the FIO was not mentioned in an overwhelming majority of the annual yearbooks of various ministries reviewed by the CCE. The report concludes with a number of recommendations for the government to ensure the citizens' fundamental right of access to information. The report calls for creation of the office of federal information ombudsman to coordinate information requests and monitor their processing. Besides stressing for improvement in the existing FIO, it urges the government to initiate massive awareness and training campaign to promote open mindset for access to information, transparency and good governance.
The report also analyses situation of access to information at local level and calls for comprehensive local and provincial laws to ensure freedom of information. It is hoped the concerned public bodies would reconsider the situation and work to realise an open access to information culture, it adds.