Dream of having access to information in matters of public importance continues to remain unfulfilled in Sindh.
The Sindh Assembly akin to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab passed the law in March this year promising to ensure citizen’s access to information in government departments but the government has not yet taken measures to implement the law.
After the passage of Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2016, the government was supposed to establish Sindh Information Commission within 100 days to regulate matters pertaining to right to information. However, there has been no progress on the law implementation even after five months.
According to the law, the Sindh Information Commission would comprise three members to be appointed by the government. The commission would be headed by chief information officer who would be a retired bureaucrat of at least grade-21.
The law also decreed that the government would have division or district level information offices, under the supervision of divisional commissioners, with members from civil society and lawyer fraternity to look into public grievances related to their right to information.
“Anyone who believes that his request is not being entertained and government officers refuse to provide him the information, he will have right to lodge complaint with the information commission. The commission will decide every complaint within 45 days,” read the law. “Any officer [who] fails to provide information to citizens will be punished with fine,” the law maintained, adding that if any officer did so with mala fide intention, this would lead to a fine of up to 10% of his basic salary.
Moving the bill, Parliamentary Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro had said that people always accused the government for corruption and bad governance, as well as violation of laws, but after this bill, the government would be accountable to every citizen.
Commenting on the non-implementation of the law, Toufique Ahmed Wasan, provincial coordinator of Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, a not-for-profit civil society organisation, said that passage of the law was positive news as it showed the government’s commitment to empower ordinary persons, but ironically the law remains only on papers like many other laws in Pakistan. “Sindh governor has given the assent to the bill and government also issued gazetteer notification but the information commission is still not formed,” he said.
Dr Syed Raza Ali Gardezi, civil society activist who also played a role in drafting this law, said it was a people friendly law but unless the information commission is not set-up, it will remain a ‘toothless effort’.
“I have written a number of letters to parliamentary minister and chief minister asking them to set-up the information commission but no one has heeded our plea,” lamented Dr Gardezi.
However, when contacted, the parliamentary minister assured that the government is serious in implementing the law. We have started consultations to appoint the head of the information commission and rules will be drafted later, said Khuhro. “We will set up the commission within a few days,” he affirmed.