The elusive Right to Information Bill 2016 (RIB) is sluggishly moving between the various ministries in a bid for any last minute recommendations before it is reviewed by the cabinet. The Information Minister has been personally held responsible for the inordinate delay, and this might not be unjustified considering the Minister was last lambasted in parliament for failing to bring the law in front of cabinet after 17 successive meetings; and this was in February.

The lack of a law to protect an internationally declared basic human right is utterly reprehensible. Pakistan’s own parliament also recognised it as a fundamental right in 2010, with the passage of the 18th amendment. The significance of an individual’s right to information from public offices cannot be undermined; it is the most important step to make the state directly accountable to the general public. Public institutions and officials have a responsibility to the public and the country they serve. The idea is to forgo personal ambition and look to the greater good. Obviously, humanity’s fallibility can only make this possible if they are under the watchful eye of the public.

Public institutions are less likely to be corrupt with the knowledge that any false dealing can be brought under the spotlight using information obtained through official channels. There is a slighter chance of money disappearing or other malpractices taking place if each and every person working for the state is aware that they can be caught by anyone through a paper trail.

The dependency on anti-corruption bodies that often have dubious motivations will also decrease. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and others have been chastised repeatedly by all sides for being partial in specific cases. If all state documents – excluding those pertaining directly to national security – are completely accessible, investigative bodies will have no choice but to move against suspects because the public will call them out if they hold back.

The provisions in the new law are still under wraps, but it is hoped that the government does not botch this legislative adventure like it did in the case of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, where the attempt to protect rights turned into a law that practically advocates a mass witchhunt. The RIB can be a foundation for greater state accountability, and if for nothing else but plaudits for PML-N’s time in power, the party should ensure that it fulfils the principle it is centred on; the individual’s inalienable right to access information for greater transparency in society.