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First-ever NFIC set up in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD  –  The first ever National Forum of Information Commissioners (NFIC) has been established in Pakistan after federal and all provincial information commissioners gathered here to discuss the challenges being faced by public to get information from government bodies under relevant right to information (RTI) laws.

The forum consists of all in-service information commissioners from federal, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh. With regular meetings and learning from each other, the forum will make a joint effort for a transparent and accountable regime in Pakistan

The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), a not-for-profit civil society organization, laid foundation of the national forum in Islamabad- a move that is being described as a historic achievement in the RTI (right to information) history of the country.

The two-day inaugural meeting of NFIC concluded on Friday, here in Islamabad. The meeting was attended by the information commissioners from Pakistan Information Commission (Federal), Punjab Information Commission, KP RTI Commission and Sindh Information Commission.

All the commissioners welcomed the idea of a joint forum of information commissioners in Pakistan and pledged to learn from each other’s experiences. The commissions shared their progress, success stories, issues, challenges faced while implementing RTI laws in their jurisdictions.

Several issues were also discussed including non-allocation of financial resources, lack of administrative support from government, delay in finalizing the working rules and subsequent shortage of staff, resistance in disclosing information and colonial mindset of public bodies etc.

At the end, all information commissioners agreed that culture of secrecy and colonial mindset was prevalent in Pakistan. Transparency, good governance with maximum disclosure and better service delivery can only achieved with the bona fide implementation of RTI laws in Pakistan.

A declaration was also signed by the commissioners where they pledged to ensure access to information in the service of people without any fear of favour.

Published in The Nation

National Forum of Information Commissioners launched

PESHAWAR: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has laid the foundation of the first-ever National Forum of Information Commissioners (NFIC) in Pakistan.

A press release said the forum consists of all in-service information commissioners from federal, KP, Punjab and Sindh. With regular meetings and learning from each other, the forum will make a joint effort for a transparent and accountable regime in Pakistan.

The two-day inaugural meeting of the NFIC concluded on Friday, in Islamabad. It was attended by the Information Commissioners from Pakistan Information Commission (Federal), Punjab Information Commission, KP RTI Commission and Sindh Information Commission.

All the commissioners welcomed the idea of a joint forum of the information commissioners and pledged to learn from each other’s experiences.

The CPDI is an independent, non-partisan and a not-for-profit registered civil society organization working on the issues of development and peace in Pakistan.

Published in The News

FBR directed to provide information under Right of Access to Information Act 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Information Commission (FIC) has directed the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to provide the information requested by a citizen under Right of Access to Information Act 2017 as the revenue board has failed to give any cogent arguments for withholding the requested information.

The FBR was requested to provide certified information under Right of Access to Information Act 2017 about total vacancies in the revenue board against different pay-scales (1-22), total number of daily-wagers, total number of female staff members, total number of persons with disabilities and total number of transgender persons. However, the FBR authorities refused to share the requisite information while invoking the exemption clause of the Act.

Upon refusal from FBR, complainant Mukhtar Ahmed Ali filed an appeal before the Federal Information Commission on May 06, 2019. According to Mr Mukhtar, he submitted an information request to the Chairman, Federal Board of Revenue, vide letter number RTI/info Req/2019/114 under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 on April 10, 2019. However, on April 29, 2019, the FBR denied access to the requested information by quoting Section 16 (b) (iii) of the Act.

The Commission after hearing both sides, concluded that even a plain reading of the requested information shows that it belongs to the category of information which public bodies are legally bound to proactively disclose under Section 5 (a) of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017. The information which should have been proactively disclosed by the public body is being protected from sharing with a citizen in the name of ‘not revealing the identity of a confidential source of information’.

The Commission in its decision says, “The points under the consideration of the commission are, firstly, the request of access to information which should have been proactively disclosed through web site and the application of an exemption clause which is entirely irrelevant and misplaced for the denial of the access to the requested information. Secondly, the lack of preparation on the part of the Respondent as he did not submit before the commission record pertaining to the correspondence with his seniors seeking approval for providing requested information and the response of the officers in this regard.”

“Federal Board of Revenue, other than merely invoking an exemption clause of the Act, has not provided any arguments for withholding requested information from the citizen. The requested information can only be withheld from a citizen by invoking an exemption clause on justifiable grounds. The commission is of the view that mere referral to an exemption clause does not mean that a public body has acted in accordance with the provisions of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017”, reads the Commission’s decision.

The Commission further says, “While FBR has failed to provide any cogent arguments for withholding the requested information, benefits of bringing this information in the public domain are too obvious to be missed. The requested information may reveal whether or not FBR is properly staffed to carry out its functions and responsibilities. Whether or not job quota in a federal public body for persons with disabilities, minorities and residents of different provinces is being observed in letter and spirit, to mention just a couple of examples”.

“Public participation in the affairs of the government is key to good governance and citizens can have greater participation in the affairs of the government through the exercise of their right to information. Instead of denying access to the requested information by referring to an exemption clause without providing sound arguments, FBR is legally obligated to proactively share this information through its web site to ensure greater public participation in its functioning”, says the decision.

“It is incumbent upon the designated Public Information Officers to submit all the record before the commission at the time of hearing. Any correspondence seeking approval for sharing the requested information and the response thereof is important to determine the role played by officers in the process of deciding on the information requests and fixing responsibility in delaying or denying access to the requested information. As the buck needs to stop somewhere, the commission will fix responsibility on the Public Information Officer in case no communication pertaining to seeking approval is submitted before the commission”, reads the Commission’s decision.

The information sought by the complainant, through application dated 19/02/2019, is as follows:

a) Total sanctioned strength of staff members in your organization (category-wise) against different positions/ pay-scales i.e. from pay scale 1 to 22 (category-wise).

b) Total vacancies in your organization against different pay-scales/ positions (category-wise); and dates since which these positions have been lying vacant.

c) Number of staff members who are not regular but have been engaged on daily-wage basis or through short-term or long-term contracts against various positions/ pay-scales (category-wise).

d) Number and types of positions created anew since January 1, 2017.

e) Total number of female staff members (category-wise) against various positions/ pay-scales. The response may distinguish between the short-term/ temporary staff members and regular ones.

f) Total number of persons with disabilities working in your organization against various positions/ pay-scales (category-wise). The response may distinguish between the short-term/ temporary staff members and regular ones.

g) Total number of transgender persons working in your organization against various positions/ pay-scales (category-wise). The response may distinguish between the short-term/ temporary staff members and regular ones.

h) A certified copy of the latest approved Service Rules of your organization.

However, in response to the application, the FBR vide letter dated 29/04/2019 denied access to the requested information by stating as under: “I am directed to convey that your application has been examined by the competent authority and is of the view that the right to information under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 is subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law, whereas, the requisite information is exempt from disclosure under Section 16 (b) (iii) of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 which states that: The information may be exempt if its disclosure is likely to -Reveal the identity of a confidential source of information”.

After hearing both the sides, the Commission directed the respondent (FBR) to provide the requested information to the Appellant at the earliest, but in any case, not later than 20 working days of the receipt of this order. Furthermore, the Respondent is directed to take immediate steps to proactively share through the web site all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 and submit the compliance report to the commission by 10/09/2019.

Posted in The News

MPs given Rs73m for medical treatment from Jan 2017 to March 2019

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly Secretariat spent Rs73.13 million for the treatment of MNAs from January 2017 till March 2019.

The PML-N and PTI, both the ruling parties, preferred their own party members while reimbursing their medical bills, reveals the data received through Right of Access to Information Act 2017.

The analysis of the data reveals that during the PML-N regime, the ruling party MNAs were given priority as 23 out of 50 MNAs have been paid their medical bills from January 2017 to May 31, 2018. The PML-N government reimbursed a total of Rs57,682,440 (Rs57.68 million) to 50 MNAs from different parties for their medical treatment out of which Rs51,165,373 (Rs51.16 million) were given to its own 23 MNAs.

Similarly, following in the footstep of its predecessor, the PTI government is also favoring its own MNAs. The analysis of the data shows that from June 2018 till March 2019, the PTI-led government has reimbursed the medical bills of 33 MNAs worth Rs15,451,759 (Rs15.45 million). Out of the total Rs15.45 million, 12 MNAs of PTI have been reimbursed Rs8,767,534 (Rs8.76 million) whereas the remaining Rs6,684,225 had been given to 21 MNAs of different parties. The present government has also reimbursed Rs2,863,822 (Rs2.8 million) to six PML-N MNAs.

As per data, six MNAs of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) were reimbursed Rs2,155,521 (Rs2.15 million) during the last one and a half years of PML-N regime. Similarly, PTI government has reimbursed Rs103,781 to two PPP MNAs. Similarly, three JUI-F MNAs were reimbursed Rs1,662,774 (Rs1.66 million) during PML-N regime but no one from the party has been given any amount during the PTI government.

The analysis of the data further reveals that the amount spent on the members of the lower house during these two years is much higher than the amount spent on MNAs from 2008 to 2017. A total of 83 MNAs have reimbursed their medical bills from the National Assembly (NA) Secretariat during the last two years, the data reveals.

The data received from NA Secretariat on the RTI request filed by a citizen Moonus Kayinat Zahra reveals that a total of 27 MNAs got their medical bills worth Rs2128,9101 (Rs21.28 million) reimbursed from the NA Secretariat from January 2017 to December 2017. Similarly, 32 parliamentarians received Rs45,209,386 (Rs45.20 million) as medical reimbursement from the lower house secretariat. The data further reveals that 18 MNAs have received Rs6,629,658 (Rs6.62 million) from the NA Secretariat from January 2019 to March 2019.

According to the data, late Najaf Abbas Sial (PML-N) was reimbursed Rs30,086,256 (Rs30.08 million) in 2018 for his medical treatment. Sahibzada Muhammad Nazeer Sultan (PML-N) was the second highest who received Rs11,860,611 (Rs11.86 million) from the NA Secretariat for his medical treatment in 2017.

Third on the list of highest reimbursement is ex-MNA Mian Muhammad Farooq (PML-N) who received Rs5,417,110 (Rs5.41 million) during 2017 and 2018. In 2017, he received Rs3,415,110 and Rs2,002,000 in 2018. Similarly, sitting MNA Dr Haider Ali Khan (PTI) has received Rs4,717,668 (Rs4.71 million) from the NA Secretariat in 2019.

As per data, there are four other MNAs, who received more than one million rupees from the NA Secretariat for their medical bills reimbursement. The data shows that Pir Noor Muhammad Shah Jeelani (PPP) received Rs1,559,309 (Rs1.55 million) in 2018, Sardar Umar Farooq Khan, ex-MNA received Rs1,506,628 (Rs1.5 million) in 2018, Sher Ali Akbar (PTI) received Rs3,315,122 (Rs3.31 million) in 2018 and Ch Muhammad Ashraf (PML-N) received Rs1,360,415 (Rs1.36 million) in 2018. The remaining MNAs’ medical bills reimbursement is less than one million rupees.

Whereas there are a few MNAs whose medical bills amount is in thousands. Earlier, this correspondent had also filed an RTI request in 2017 and received the information from NA Secretariat about the total expenditure incurred on the medical treatment of parliamentarians from 2008 to 2017.

According to the data, this correspondent received in 2017, the NA Secretariat spent Rs64.38 million for the medical treatment of its member from 2008 to 2017. As per the documents provided by the NA Secretariat, out of the total amount spent on parliamentarians during the current and previous regime, a major chunk was spent during 2008 to 2013.

The parliamentarians spent Rs46.54 million for their medical treatment from public money during 2007-08 to 2012-13. Similarly during the 2013 to 2017, Rs17.85 million had been spent for MNA’s medical treatment.

Posted in The News

حکومت معذور افراد کی فلاح و بہبود کیلئے فوری طور پر ٹھوس اقدامات کرے

کوئٹہ: سی پی ڈی آئی کی جانب سے خصوصی افراد کے انتخابی و سیاسی حقوق کے حوالہ سے ایک سیمینار کا انعقاد کیا گیا جس میں متعلقہ شعبہ ہائے زندگی سے تعلق رکھنے والے افراد نے خصوصی افراد سے متعلق مسائل اور انکی جمہوری عمل میں شمولیت بارے تفصیل سے تبادلہ خیال کیا۔

سیمینار سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے سی پی ڈی آئی کے سینئر پروگرام منیجر راجہ شعیب اکبر نے معذور افراد کی جمہوری عمل میں شمولیت کے فروغ کیلئے موجودہ قانونی ڈھانچہ کی تفصیلات سے آگاہ کیا اوران افراد کو مرکزی دھارے میں شامل کرنے کیلئے ضروری قانونی و انتظامی اصلاحات بارے تبادلہ خیال کیا۔ محمد آصف صوبائی کوارڈینیٹر نے اس بات پر زور دیا کہ معذور افراد کے مسائل کوہمدردی جیسے عمومی رویے سے ہٹ کرحقوق و ذمہ داریوں کے نقطہ نظر سے دیکھنے کی ضرورت ہے۔

نعمت اللہ نے معذور افراد سے متعلق تنظیموں کی نمائندگی کرتے ہوئے کہا کہ معذور افراد کو معذوری سرٹیفکیٹ اورخصوصی قومی شناختی کارڈز کے حصول کیلئے سخت مشکلات کا سامنا کرنا پڑتا ہے۔

انہوں نے کہا کہ سیاسی تنظیموں اور حکومتی عہدیداران کو چاہیے کہ وہ معذورافراد کے نمائندوں کی فیصلہ سازی میں شرکت کی حوصلہ افزائی کریں تاکہ اس عمل میں انکی شمولیت یقینی بنائی جاسکے۔نادرا کے نمائندے عبدالمنان اورالیکشن کمیشن کے اہلکار اخلاق احمد نے بھی اس بات کا یقین دلایا کہ دونوں ادارے معذور افراد کی انتخابی عمل میں زیادہ اور مؤثر شرکت کیلئے پر عزم ہیں۔

ندیم خان نیشنل کونسل ممبر پی ٹی آئی نے کہا کہ اس وقت ایک بہت بڑا خلا ہے جسے فوری پر کرنے کی ضرورت ہے حکومت کو چاہیے کہ وہ معذور افراد کی فلاح و بہبود کیلئے فوری طور پر ٹھوس اقدامات کرے اور ان کی انتخابی عمل میں شمولیت کیلئے موجودہ قانونی ڈھانچے کو بہتر بنائے۔اس کاآغا زایسے بھی کیا جاسکتا ہے کہ تمام سیاسی پارٹیوں کومعذور افراد کیلئے الگ ونگ بنانے کا قانونی طور پر پابندبنایا جائے اور خصوصی افراد کیلئے عام نشستوں کے ساتھ ساتھ سپیشل نشستوں کا کوٹہ بھی مختص کیا جائے۔

انہوں نے مزید یقین دھانی کرائی کہ چونکہ انکی پارٹی حکومت کا حصہ ہیں اس لئے وہ اس اہم مسئلے کومتعلقہ حکام تک نہ صرف پہنچائیں گے بلکہ ون ونڈو آپریشن کے ذریعے سے خصوصی افراد کیلئے شناختی کارڈ کے حصول کو یقینی بنائیں گے۔

محترمہ سمیرا نے حکومت کی نمائندگی کرتے ہوئے کہا کہ حکومت خصوصی افراد کی حالت بہترکرنے کیلئے خاطر خواہ اقدامات کر رہی ہے اور وہ یہ سمجھتی ہے کہ خصوصی افراد کا مرکزی دھارے میں شامل ہونا انتہائی ضروری ہے اسلئے وہ اس اہم مسئلے کو وزیر اعلٰی تک بھی پہنچائیں گی۔

مہمان خصوصی ندیم خان نے اپنے خیالا ت کا اظہار کرتے ہوئے سیمینار کے انعقاد پر سی پی ڈی آئی کو خراج تحسین پیش کیا اور کہا کہ خصوصی افراد کو مرکزی دھارے میں شامل کرنے کیلئے کئی ایک اقدامات کیے جارہے ہیں تاہم وہ وعدہ کرتے ہیں کہ سیمینا رمیں اجاگر کیے گئے مسائل کے حل اور ان میں بہتری لانے کیلئے وہ وزیر اعلیٰ سے بات کریں گے۔

Published in Daily Azadi Quetta

Civil Society demands concrete steps for democratic inclusion of Persons with Disabilities

QUETTA: In continuation of Seminar held in April 2019 Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) organized a follow-up seminar here in Quetta on electoral and political rights of persons with disabilities. The stakeholders discussed in detail the issues surrounding disability and inclusion of PWDs.

Raja Shoaib Akbar, Senior Program Manager CPDI shared the status of legal structure supporting inclusion of PWDs and also discussed the legal and administrative reforms required for achieving mainstreaming of PWDs.

While welcoming the participants Mr.Mohammad Asif Provincial Coordinator CPDI stressed on the need to address the disability issues with rights and obligations approach instead of routine charity model.

Mr. Naimatullah representing the disability organizations stated that the disabled people were facing lot of difficulties in obtaining the disability certificate and special National Identity Card. He also stated that the political parties and the government functionaries must make sure participation of PWDS representatives in decision making so that their inclusion on the process is ensured. The NADRA representative Mr. Abdul Manan and Election Commission official Mr. Ikhlaq Ahmed gave their views on the matter and ensured that both institutions were determined to supporting the PWDs more effective participation in electoral process of Pakistan.

Mr. Nadeem Khan National Council Member of PTI said that there was great gap that required to be filled urgently. The government must take concrete steps for welfare of PWDs including and improve legal infrastructure to ensure participation of PWDs in electoral process. This could be initiated by making it mandatory for the political parties through law to establish and maintain disability wings and fix a reasonable percentage to PWDs in special quota seats and general seats as well, he further assured that being a coalition Partner he surely will bring the importance of the case infront of Health Minister and other relevant authorities so that one window operation can be started for obtaining special CNICs.

Mrs. Sumaira speaking on behalf of the government said government was doing its utmost to improve the plight of the PWDs and government was also aware of the need to strengthen efforts for mainstreaming of PWDs, she assured that she will highlight the issue and bring in the notice of CM.

While closing the seminar the chief guest Mr. Nadeem Khan appreciated the efforts of CPDI for organizing this seminar and said that a number of mainstreaming initiatives were under way. He promised that the issues raised in the seminar will not be forgotten and he would discuss them with the chief minister for further improvements.

Published on The Balochistan Express