CPDI concerned over lack of online management staff

Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) on Friday expressed concern over the lack of online management staff of the City District Government, Rawalpindi, to update website on regular basis.
Talking to newsmen here at a local hotel, CDPI Programme Manager Syed Kausar Abbas expressed concern that City District Government of Rawalpindi is still living in the stone-age without having its official website in running position.
He alleged that the official website of City District Government of Rawalpindi is not updated and showing message that it is still under construction. Rawalpindi City District which is the back bone of Punjab and having a population of around 4.7 million in its jurisdiction but the CDGR does not have active and well equipped website management staff.
The Government of Pakistan Muslim League (N) in Punjab has spent billions of rupees on laptop distribution to attract youth to get political sympathies but the official websites of the District Governments is not working, he said.
Kausar Abbas urged that the Punjab government should take immediate steps towards the updating of online data at every department of the districts. He analysed that the District Offices are not well equipped with the information technology. He said that the District Coordination Officer should personally monitor the updates of the website.
The commitment of chief minister towards the openness and transparency could not be ensured without having updates information about the public record on its official’s websites.
He said that the provincial government should put all the public record which includes district budget, development schemes, and minutes of meeting, public expenditures, and contact details of designated officials on its website.
Kausar Abbas said that every citizen has the right of access to information under Article 19-A of the constitution of Pakistan. The legislation on Right to Information in Punjab has not yet been introduced despite giving number of political commitments by the chief minister of Punjab. He said that the Punjab government should spend its budget on the basis of need based by the districts and the citizens.
The budget making process mentioned in the Punjab Budget Rules 2003 are not followed in the districts of Punjab. The citizen’s participation is not encouraged by the District Finance Department in the budget making process. He further said that the Punjab government should introduce online information system at every District and Tehsil level instead of spending money on the laptops for youth.
District Coordination Officer of CDGR, Sajid Zafar Dal, when contacted, agreed to the concern shown by the CPDI with regard to lack of online management staff to update website. However, he said the website of CDGR was being run on ad hoc system. Now on the directions of the Punjab government, the Punjab Urban Unit is providing assistance for providing the CDGR its own website system. Work on this plan is under way and is hopefully to be completed within next two to three months, the DCO confirmed.

The News

Govt fails to start classes at Dhoke Syedan colleges despite years

RAWALPINDI –  The civil society would stage a protest demonstration and sit-in soon outside Commissioner Rawalpindi Division Office against delay in commencing regular classes at two degree colleges in Dhoke Syedan.

This was stated by Syed Kausar Abbas, Programme Manager of Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) while addressing media persons here on Tuesday.

He said that despite staging protests, holding meetings and writing letters to the government of Punjab, MNAs, MPAs and Commissioner Rawalpindi during last five years, the government failed to start classes in both degree colleges of Dhoke Syedan. He said that the project of two degree colleges in Dhoke Syedan was started in 2007 by the then Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi but the N-league government has not been able to start the classes in both the colleges for the last six years. Kausar Abbas said that Rs 42 million were spent on these buildings in the financial years 2007-08 and 2008-09 but later on the PML-N government stopped funds for these colleges due to political rivalry with PML-Q.

He said that these colleges were located at the boundary of two National Assembly Constituencies NA-52 and NA-54. These constituencies belong to Federal Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Malik Abrar Ahmad. Both the elected representatives have been approached a number of times during the last six years but they always made fake commitments.

Kausar Abbas said that after taking oath Malik Abrar Ahmad committed in a public forum organised by CPDI that the colleges would be started by end of the year but they have not started working on these colleges yet. He said that the Punjab government has spent billions of rupees on Danish Schools and laptops during last five years but they always said that they do not have resources to complete these two colleges.

He further told that these were the only colleges of NA-52 and NA-54 and the students do not have the opportunity to get access to higher education in their own area. The students have to travel long distance to Rawalpindi city or Islamabad to get education. “We have started a door-to-door campaign to muster public support to make the protest demo and sit-in successful and force the government to start classes in the colleges, Abbas added.

The Nation
THe News

Women, youth representation in LG system demanded

RAWALPINDI – The civil society has demanded 20 per cent youth and 33 per cent women representation in local government system 2013.

Syed Kausar Abbas, Programme Manager Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), stated this while talking to a group of journalists here on Monday. Kausar said that the government should ensure the youth and women participation in the upcoming local government system. He demanded that at least 33 per cent representation should be given to women. He said that female population of Pakistan was around 52 per cent of the total population. The women representation could enhance the development at the local level which would benefit the local community. He said that the women should be encouraged to take part in the local government elections. Syed also demanded at least 20 per cent representation of youth in the local government system.

He said that the population of youth was about 68 per cent of the total population of Pakistan, which could be a revolutionary step towards the development by involving youth representatives at every level. He said that the government should not ignore the 68 per cent of the total population in the local government elections.

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The Nation Link

Progress seen on info rights bills in Punjab, KP

ISLAMABAD: In a heartening development on the political scene, PML-N and PTI have started competing with each other and the all-important Right to Information (RTI) laws are in the final stages both in Punjab and KP.

While Punjab has publicised the draft law in order to seek feedback from public, KP is set to unveil revised draft law within a week. “It is a good omen to see this healthy competition,” said Zahid Abdullah, coordinator of Coalition of RTI who has been consulted by provincial administration in finalising the draft.

The laws drafted by both the provincial governments are considered far better than their previous versions, though there is still room for improvement in both. KP government’s earlier draft passed by the cabinet came under criticism.

It was later revised after getting input from the international and national RTI activists. Zahid Abdullah who was part of consultation told The News that KP government was going to unveil it anytime soon as the suggested changes have been incorporated making it a comprehensive law.

Meanwhile, Punjab administration has tried to outsmart its counterpart in KP by advertising the draft law asking public at large to help in its further improvement before it is tabled in the Punjab Assembly.

Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif had assured while talking to The News before election that RTI legislation would be the first to be approved from the provincial assembly if the PML-N was voted to power. PTI leadership, on the other hand, has also been very determined that an effective RTI law could be a major step for eradicating corruption.

Like KP, Punjab’s previous draft law sparked criticism from the RTI activists as several lacunas existed. The draft advertised has been lauded in general, although more changes have been suggested.

Experts say that Punjab’s draft law has incorporated notable provisions relating pro-active disclosure policy, setting up of the powerful information commission and also the clauses related to the information exempted from disclosure are qualified and precisely defined.

However, they argue, draft should be improved further before passed into the law. Centers for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) and Consumer Watch Pakistan (CWP) issued a statement regarding this and identified the areas that need further improvement.

They have demanded the inclusion of provisions in relation to whistle-blowers and their protection; and that the Information Commission may be given the mandate to decide on any complaints. Laws related o whistle-blowers now exist in many countries and are considered crucial for combating corruption, the statement said.

As the draft law says that the chairman of information commission will be appointed by the chief minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition, CPDI fears this practice may result in a deadlock that has often been noted during appointments at federal level.

In order to avoid this situation, a 3-member committee has been proposed and third member should preferably be the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court or Chairman Punjab Public Service Commission. The final decision should be made with majority vote even if there is not overall consensus, CPDI argues.

It may also be added in the draft law, CPDI states, when chief information commissioner is on leave, has resigned or has been removed, the senior most among the remaining members shall serve as the acting chief information commissioner. In other words, it should be automatic and based on seniority, and not left to the discretion of government, the statement said.

It has also been proposed that a department officer assigned the task of providing information should be fined with confiscation of one-day salary in case of delaying the requested information beyond given time period.

The definition of “Information” should also include the categories of information like agreement, feasibility report, inquiry reports, budget and related documents, minutes of meetings, noting on the file, records of payments, records of procurements, quotations, bills, expense claims, vouchers, reimbursement records, inspection or visit reports and work sheets, CPDI said.

As the draft law has been named as Punjab Right to Information Act 2013, CPDI suggested its name as Right to Information Law as the title of Article 19-A of the Constitution is “Right to Information” and this law should have the same title, as it is meant give effect to Article 19A.

CPDI discovers mismanagements in the budget making process at District Level in the Punjab

Islamabad, 26th July, 2013 – A study on budget making process in Pakistan was released on Friday by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, an Islamabad-based non-governmental organization. The study was conducted by the Citizens Network for Budget Accountability, a network of 23 civil society organizations and activists from different districts of the Punjab province formed to monitor the process of budget-making at the district level. The main aim of the study was to collect research-based evidence whether district governments of Punjab are following the timelines and required procedures for the budget-making process.

The study establishes that budget-making process in Pakistan has been largely opaque. Of 36 districts in the Punjab, only 3 districts have some sort of consultations with civil society during the process of budget making a mandatory requirement under District Budget Rules 2003. People have little opportunity to participate in the process that affects the quality of their lives directly. No major steps have been taken by any government or political parties to make this process participatory or people-oriented. Further, there is no tradition of releasing pre-budget statement to the public. The best practices in budget making process world over include preparation of Citizen Budget. This is the presentation of budget in simplified language for understanding of general public. Only four districts claimed to have prepared “citizen budget” but its copy was not shared.

The study shows that only 26 districts have issued budget call letters (BCLs) to district departments. Of these 26 districts, vision/mission of the district government was mentioned only in 6 BCLs and only 19 were sent with detailed budget calendar. The study also revealed that process of budget making was still in a very rudimentary stage. The estimates of expenditure should have been completed by first of March but only 11 districts have completed it. Similarly, estimates of receipts that should have been completed by March 1, were completed by 9 districts only.

An important yardstick for information dissemination would have been a good interactive and updated website. The survey results show that only 6 districts have functional websites. There was no district where budget figures for last 3 years could be found. Districts are also shy of posting their project expenses regularly on their websites.
The budget branches of district governments are in depleted condition. Only 3 districts have some sort of dedicated research staff in budget branch. With Chief Minister of the Punjab distributed more that 150,000 laptops last year, budget branch of only 11 districts are fully computerized.

The study recommends the increased public participation in budget making process. It reiterates that local government elections are conducted in the Punjab and local governments are placed in the districts to oversee the performance of executive branch.

A copy of the study can be requested by writing to CPDI or it can be accessed using the following link:

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Even PTI, PML-N not serious on Information Rights Bill

ISLAMABAD: Rhetoric aside, the PML-N and PTI are awkwardly alike in denying the public the right to information as their provincial governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) have framed Right to Information (RTI) laws that will change nothing on ground.
While the provincial governments have taken some small steps, the federal government has done nothing visible to public eye although Information Ministry claims to have drafted an RTI law that is being tightly guarded like Abbottabad Commission report.
Background discussions with the stakeholders and the officials engaged in the exercise indicate that work on Punjab’s draft law has been halted over the differences on appellant body.
Out of the five-member body assigned to finalise the draft, majority voted for setting up a powerful information commission comprising at least three members to take up complaints against the departments reluctant to provide information to citizens within the duration of 21-day period. The proposal was vetoed by two members of the committee who said the provincial
ombudsman should be assigned the task of appellant body, an experiment that has already failed at provincial and federal level. Also the fact remains that RTI laws in India, considered the best in the world, have their success grounded in the establishment of an independent information commission that is exclusively assigned to deal with the complaints and proceed against the departments not showing compliance.
Interestingly the two members of the Punjab’s committee vetoed the setting up of information commission and insisted on the role of ombudsman included the provincial ombudsman himself, a case of glaring conflict of interest. Now the issue has been referred to chief minister Punjab to resolve who has passed it on for discussion in the cabinet meeting, a development being interpreted as a delaying tactic on the part of the government that is said to be keen in keeping the role of ombudsman.
The situation in KP is not different either. The provincial cabinet recently approved the draft of RTI law, however the contents of draft have been greeted with skepticism by the activists. Contrary to the deadlock in Punjab on the appellant body, the KP law has envisaged the role of information commission but that will be a one-man forum meaning thereby it would not be different from what the ombudsman would be doing in Punjab.
Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) that has been working on RTI law closely examined the KP’s RTI draft and offered clause-wise comments. About the information commission, CPDI said it should be a three-member body including a former judge of superior court, a bureaucrat with 15-year experience and one RTI activist. In order to make the commission a potent body, the CPDI suggest, it should have suo moto powers to initiate inquiry about any of the violations of the concerned laws. Contrary to role determined in the KP’s draft law reducing it to mere initiate an inquiry, CPDI, said the commission, should also be empowered to make decisions and issue appropriate directions.
As KP’d draft RTI law has excluded provincial assembly and the courts from being questioned, CPDI has urged the provincial government to include them among the departments as they are run by public money hence be called into question like in other democracies. It also demands bringing autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies in the ambit authorising public to secure information from them. RTI laws in India and Bangladesh cover courts. Even in Pakistan, the Federal Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006, and Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 are applicable to courts.
As the KP’s draft law dealing with information exempted from seeking has loosely defined the categories leaving it to the discretion of the concerned departments to interpret law in their favour to hinder information, CPDI has demanded clearly and tightly phrased list of exempt information in order to minimise the possibility of any ambiguity.
The CPDI has also questioned the exemption of official documents ‘legally considered as state, official, business or other secrets that are accessible only to a specific group of persons.’ This exemption, the CPDI noted, is neither justifiable nor needed in the presence of other exemptions under section 4 of the draft law. “If retained in its present form, it would render the whole law ineffective,” CPDI said.
The CPDI has also questioned the exemption of documents for internal working maintained in files, any intermediary opinion or recommendation, Cabinet papers including records of the deliberation. There is no justification, the CPDI said, whatsoever to keep such information exempt, especially after a decision or a determination has been made. As it is, this exemption is not reasonable in view of regional and international best practice. In many countries around the world, including India, all such information including proposals, cabinet requested information may relate to, and include a legal person registered or incorporated in Pakistan.

The News Link

People’s participation in budget making

THE key to practical democracy is the active involvement of people in every aspect of governance and hence budget as an imperative instrument of governance is no exception.

However, the budget-making process in Pakistan has been largely opaque. People have little opportunity to participate in the process that affects the quality of their lives directly. No major steps have been taken by any government or political party to make this process participatory or people-oriented.

A study was conducted by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), an Islamabad-based think-tank, to monitor the process of budget-making at the district level.

Its main aim was to collect research-based evidence whether district governments of Punjab are following the timelines and required procedures for the budget-making process.

The District Government Budget Rules 2003 lay a clear outline for different timelines and procedures to follow, including a clear requirement for people’s participation in the budget-making process.

The survey shows disturbing trends in budget formulation. Of 36 districts of Punjab, only two issued budget call letters before the stipulated date, i.e., September.

There was a very low level of people’s participation in the budget-making process. Citizens are required to be consulted before the issuance of budget call letters, and during the preparation of budget proposals.

The districts governments have a poor show in this area. Only three districts in Punjab consulted civil society representatives and citizens at some stage of the budget-making process.

The budget branches of the EDO/F are in depleted conditions. There is a vast gap between sanctioned and posted strength, and a number of posts are lying vacant.

Overall, of 489 sanctioned posts in the budget branch, only 219 were filled. There were only two districts where the budget branches were working to full strength.

Many of the procedures, as given in District Budget Rules 2003, were either bypassed or ignored. For example, in five districts, estimates of expenditures and receipts were prepared and submitted, though budget call letters were not issued.

Where it was issued, the budget call letter was not accompanied by some important components as mentioned in the budget rules.

By the time of survey, April 2013, 26 districts had issued budget call letters. Of these 26 districts, vision/mission of the district government was mentioned only in six budget call letters and only 19 budget call letters were sent with detailed budget calendar.

An important yardstick for information dissemination would have been a good interactive and updated website. The survey results show that only six districts have functional websites.

Local government elections are the only solution available to make the executive branch accountable and to increase people’s participation in the budget-making process.

The situation at district level, however, is not pleasing at all. Several steps of the budget-making process are bypassed, public participation is next to zero, there is no research staff posted in budget branches, district governments do not generally respect budget procedures and timelines.

The provinces have delayed the local government elections on different pretexts. This wait should end now. The top leadership of the PML-N is on record for holding local government elections within six months of the general elections.

The countdown has started.

ZAHRA LODHI Project Manager Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives
Islamabad

 

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