Freedom of information and e-governance

FREEDOM OF information is an internationally recognised human right. In 1946, the United Nations General Assembly recognised that “Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated”. Consequently, the right to information was referred to in two key international human rights instruments: the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, which came into force in 1978.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) defines the right to access to information in the following terms:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Freedom of InformationPakistan was the first country in South Asia to frame a law on freedom of information, when it promulgated the Freedom of Information Ordinance in 1997 through a presidential order. The Constitution of Pakistan expressly gives a right of access to information, Article 19 states: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission or incitement to an offence”.

The term e-government is of recent origin and there exists no standard definition since the conceptual understanding is still evolving. The generally accepted definition is: “e-government” or electronic government refers to the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by government agencies for any or all of the following reasons:

I.   Exchange of information with citizens, business or other government departments

II. Speedier and more efficient delivery of public services

III.Improving internal efficiency

IV. Reducing costs or increasing revenue

V. Restructuring of administrative processes

The essence of e-government can be summarised as: “The enhanced value for stakeholders throughtransformation”. The conventional delivery systems will continue to be important given the restricted coverage though internet, limited spread of education, lack of infrastructure like power, etc. There is a widespread societal bureaucratic routine, paperwork, procedures and delays, over-centralization, systematic rigidities and poor service to maintain systemic viability in the face of global competition. Technology impacts the way work is organized and how employees work. Not all the existing processes add value and still remain valid.

ICT offers an opportunity for improvement in public service delivery and most administrative best practices built upon the process redesign and convert the ICT facilitates. ICT leads to a transformation in work processes and service delivery, lowers transaction cost with improvement in transparency and accountability. It enables transformational change rather than merely technical change. E-government information systems should not mean electronic reproduction of the existing institutional patterns and relations, and the same patterns of inter-department cooperation.

The integration of back-end services and transformation of process design for basic service delivery linked to organizational level restructuring is at the heart of the transformation.

It is also important to integrate government services with inter-operable standards with convergence across departments breaking up the silos and duplication of meta-data and processes and divisions between the technical/operational side and between field and secretariat. Architectural change of organizations is also part of this transformation. The concept of networking of organizations and information systems, with public administration functioning on a networked horizontal structural base, marking a departure from hierarchical command structures is the future administrative roadmap.

Having access to information plays a key role in the efforts to curb corruption and control its impact. By facilitating such access and making more information related to the operations of the public sector available in the public domain, the government should introduces greater transparency and accountability, which in turn help curb corruption… Ensuring access to information is, therefore, a fundamental requirement for establishing an effective system of national integrity.

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