Category Archives: Press Release

The Need to Repeal Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005

Why is effective right to information law important for good governance? It is so because it enables citizens and journalists to get certified information and copies of records available with public bodies as a right and not as a favor of public officials. Furthermore, an effective right to information law allows citizens and journalists to get information from public bodies on topics and timing of their own choosing. In the absence of a right to information law, public bodies share only that information that they deem fit to disclose and on the time of their own choosing. Therefore, a good right to information law is a prerequisite for accountability of public officials and elected representatives.
Citizens of Pakistan have constitutional right of access to information held by public bodies by the virtue of 18th Amendment in the constitution. Article 19-A says: “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”. The significance of the constitutionality of this right can be gauged from the fact that both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 and the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 refer to Article 19-A in their preambles and meet standards of effective right to information legislation. However, Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 falls well short of meeting these standards. A right to information law meets these standards when it ensures maximum disclosure, minimal exemptions, obligation for proactive disclosure, process to facilitate access to information, minimum cost for the requested information, and disclosure taking precedence over exemption and assisting the requesters. ‘Information’ is not defined, the list of exempted information is vague, there is no harm test, and the process of access to information held by public bodies is neither cost-effective nor easy. More importantly, instead of establishing independent and autonomous commissions, the role of appellate body has been entrusted to Ombudsman. That is why empirical data collected over the years by using Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 also supports assertion of the right to information activists in the country that it is a highly ineffective law.
On the other hand, KPK and Punjab right to information laws meet standards of right to information legislation. ‘Information’ is clearly defined, list of exempted information clear and precise, process of submitting information requests is both easy and cost-effective and independent and autonomous commissions have been established with powers to get these laws implemented. As a result, civil society groups, citizens and journalists are using these laws in greater frequency than Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005, Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006 and Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002. Already, journalists have contributed excellent investigative stories using these laws and citizens have successfully used these laws for the attainment of their rights.
There is movement in the country to ensure greater level of public accountability through right to information legislation. Federal cabinet has drafted Right of Access to Information Bill 2016 which is better than Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 but not as good as Right to Information Bill 2016 approved by Senate Standing Committee on Information and broadcasting which is meets standards of effective right to information legislation.
Sindh government has also approved Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Bill 2016 to repeal Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006. Balochistan government needs to follow the suit of federal and Sindh governments and repeal Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 and replace it with effective law so that there is greater level of public participation in running the affairs of the province.
Writer is author and a rights activist.
Email: zahid@cpdi-pakistan.org Twitter:@XahidAbdullah

PIC asked Registrar, The Women University, Multan to share the details of recent recruitment of Admin Officer

Jhang: The Punjab Information Commission (PIC) has issued notice against the Registrar, The Women University, Multan to share information about recent recruitment of “Admin Officer”.

According to Source a Right to Information (RTI) activist from Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) from Jhang district, Raza Ali, filed an information request with Registrar, The Women University Multan seeking information about recent recruitment of Admin Officer in the University by using The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 on March 21, 2016.

The Applicant requested information regarding recruitment of admin officer i.e. list of candidates, criteria of the selection, copies of educational documents, professional certificates, list of members who were part of interview panel committee and copies of interview marks sheets of selected candidates. Assistant registrar shared the incomplete information and stated some requisition fall exempted under section 13 of The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013.

However, the applicant filed complaint to PIC for incomplete information on March 29, 2016. The commission reviewed the complained and issued notice to registrar to share the requested information as soon as possible not later than April 20, 2016.

The Commission also directed the body to implement sections 4 and 7 of the Act, post contact details of public information officers on the website, and establish a mechanism to decide all pending or future complaints within the timeframe prescribed in section 10 of the Act. Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Information Commissioner said that it is legal right of any citizen of a legal person to access information from public bodies. Any violation of the Law or delay of can result in penalties as per section 15 or 16 of the Act.

IRA News

Tackling crime: Significance of community policing stressed

ISLAMABAD: Tackling crime and social disorder requires working together of the police and local community. 

This was stated by National Police Bureau (NPB) Gender Crime Cell Director Abbas Hussain Malik while speaking at the launch of a handbook on community policing organised by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) here at a hotel on Wednesday.

Malik highlighted the significance of community policing in tackling the growing levels of crime.

The event, organised with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the European Union, was attended by a diverse audience comprising citizens from all walks of life.

Senior police officials, including Islamabad AIG Operations Asher Hameed, Azad Jammu and Kashmir AIG Faheem Ahmed Khan, Karachi DIG Crime Branch Azhar Rasheed Khan, K-P
SSP Investigation Abdul Rasheed Khan, Islamabad SP Crime Branch Zubair Sheikh and Rawalpindi DSP VIP Security Shamshad Akhtar shared their insights on the subject.

CPDI Programme Manager Bilal Saeed delivered a presentation to provide an overview of the handbook on community policing.

Saeed discussed the pros and cons of various community policing initiatives undertaken across the country, and expressed hope that police would  adopt the indigenised framework on community policing presented in the publication.

NPB Gender Crime Cell Deputy Director Mahreen Maqsood explained the various initiatives of the bureau currently under way, directed at uplifting the image of the police, and towards implementing community policing in the country.

She also expressed the possibility of collaborative efforts with the CPDI to take push for community policing in the country.

The speakers at the event were of the unanimous view that community policing must be implemented in the country, and the image of police must be corrected to strengthen police-community relations.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th,  2015.

Tribune

Call for citizens` participation in dists` budgeting

SAHIWAL: District governments should ensure citizens` participation in the budget making process that should be transparent and open to public input and feedback while the people must also play a pro-active role in this regard.

This was the consensus at an interactive dialogue organised by Citizen Network for Budget Accountability (CNBA) attended by local political and civil society activists at a hotel here on Thursday.

The participants lamented that though new district governments would be in place by end of January 2016, the provincial government has yet to finalise the modalities of the functioning of district budgets under the amended LG Act 2013.

They said public participation in district budget making processes must be the corner stone of annual planning as envisaged in the new law.

Mr Kousar Abbas of Centre forPeace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) conducted the dialogue as resource person.

It was said that according to Budget Rules, Government of Punjab 2006, it was mandatory for each district to share budgetcalendar with multiple stakeholders.

The process starts in September of each year with issuance of Budget Call Letter. This process ends in June with final approval of the budget.

The citizens were informed how they could follow budget calendar and put their proposal in Budget Call Letter. It is stressed each district government must make special arrangements for soliciting public opinion in the processes of budget making under new LGA 2013. They should ask about the budget making process from district government through using their right to information.

The citizens should make district governments develop their official websites so that they could get first-hand information about budget making. Every district has a senior network administrator (SNA) of fice for developing websites and making budget process open to public.

The participants developed a consensus that budget making was not a`secret` process and should be carried out through citizens` participation so that they could give their input by proposing development schemes which they consider necessary for their areas. These schemes if approved would be included in the province`s Annual Development Plan (ADP).

In the end, a unanimous resolution was passed stressing upon provincial government to get developed websites of 26 district governments of Punjab. It is learnt presently only 10 district governments Multan, Muzzafargarh, Bahawalnagar, DG Khan, Pakpattan, Sialkot, Rajanpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Chiniot and Mandi Bahauddin -have their operational official websites.

Dawn News

CPDI Demands thorough Review of Rules of Procedure of Punjab Assembly

ISLAMABAD (INP): Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has demanded a through review of rules of procedures to make it in line with the democratic traditions.
The rules of procedures of Pakistani assemblies, including the Punjab Assembly, are part of Common Law originating primarily in the practice of House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Whereas UK assemblies have introduced some revolutionary changes in the working of the House and many commonwealth countries have followed it; Pakistani assemblies are still lagging behind in term of efficiency, accountability and transparency.
For example, an MP can expect answer to question submitted in House of Common within 2 days; his counterpart in the Punjab Assembly has to wait for 12 months and in some case for 24 months to get answer of the submitted questions. It was said by Amer Ejaz, Executive Director and Syed Kausar Abbas, Program Manager of Centre for peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) here on Wednesday.
Amer Ejaz said that the attendance of the MPAs in the assembly session has long been the classified information. With strong Right to Information legislation in the province, it has at last become possible to get such information.
However, there are still some issues attached with the transparency.
Whereas the average attendance of the assembly, as shown on its website, is 180, the independent sources has not confirmed it. CPDI has suggested to install biometrics system at the gates of the assembly hall to take the attendance of the MPAs.
CPDI has also proposed electing one speaker and 4 Deputy Speakers at the first sitting of the assembly after the general election. Two speakers should be from government side and the other two from opposition. The deputy speakers from opposition should be ready to take the chair if speakers and deputy speakers from government side are absent. Ejaz said that Rule 24 of rules of procedure clearly says that meeting time of the assembly is 9am to 2pm but this timing is seldom observed. The average meeting time per sitting is not more than 2.5 hours. There are also serious issues of punctuality attached to our assemblies.
Kausar Abbas said that the Question hour is one of the most futile exercises of the Punjab Assembly. It is futile in the sense that a question submitted by a member can take 2 years to fetch the answer. One of the important functions of MPAs is the executive oversight; question hour is a very important tool for this oversight. CPDI has suggested that all questions submitted by MPAs should be answered at the floor of the house during the next session. This is the only way to make this exercise meaningful. The Chief Minister Question Hour could not be started in our assemblies.
Legislation in our assemblies is done in a very secret manner; whereby law department drafts a bill and it is first presented in the cabinet for approval before lying at the floor of the house. It is a classified document until it is presented in the house. Even after that there is hardly any mechanism of taking feedback of the stakeholders on it. The bill should be discussed in the public domain and it should be made mandatory for standing committees to take feedback of the stakeholders. The procedure for private member bill should also be changed and private members should also be allowed to present money bill. Maximum time limit for enacting or otherwise of a bill should also be fixed. Similarly, civil society organizations should also be allowed to table a bill in the assembly for legislation.

Approval of budget is one of the very important functions of our assemblies but it is done in post haste. For example, there are only two clear days between presenting a budget and start of general discussion in the assembly. As we know, budget exercise is done in total secrecy and members do not have any information about it before the budget speech, the two days given to members to start discussion on it are too small a period. These intervening days should be increased to seven. Similarly, the discussion on budget, cut motions and supplementary budget demands more time and focus. For this, CPDI has proposed to change the budget calendar and present the budget during the last week of April instead of June as is customary in Pakistan.

There are in total more than 60 rules that need to be amended. These proposed amendments after taking the feedback from stakeholders would be presented to Punjab Assembly this month.

The Frontier Post