CPDI to hold forum of constituents with representatives

Rawalpindi: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) would hold an interactive forum of constituents with elected representatives of Rawalpindi Cantonment NA-54, PP-9 & PP-10. Constituency Relations Group of NA-54 will present an issue based on charter of demands to the elected representatives.
Member National Assembly Malik Abrar Ahmad, Member Provincial Assembly Asif Mehmood and Malik Iftikhar Ahmad will attend the session.
CPDI Program Manager Syed Kausar Abbas said this while talking to newsmen on Wednesday. Kausar Abbas said that the constituency relations group of CPDI is holding an interactive session with the elected representatives of NA-54 on July 6, Saturday.
He said that Constituency Relations Group is the group of concerned volunteers working in the constituency to highlight the issues and to bridge the gap between elected representatives, public institutions and citizens. Kausar Abbas said that NA-54 constituency of Rawalpindi belongs to Rawalpindi Cantonment Board area and residents do not get access to the basic facilities in the constituency.

The News Link

Inclusion of access to information policy in police act urged

Islamabad: The civil society demanded inclusion of the Access to Information Policy in the Punjab Police Act 2013 effectively. It regretted that unfortunately it is not being implemented or practiced in the present police culture.

This was stated by Syed Kausar Abbas, programme manager of the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI). He said that the Punjab government is in the process to introduce Punjab Police Act 2013, but they have ignored Access to Information Policy.

He demanded that the Punjab government should include Access to Information Policy in the Police Act 2013 which would strengthen the working environment of the police department. He said that right to information is practiced in more than 100 countries of the world and the police department should enhance the capacity of its officials to share information with the public.

He further said that this is imperative for the police reforms to give access to information to the public. Kausar Abbas said that the Inspector General of Punjab Police should form information desks along with the designated information officials in all the police stations of Punjab.
The News International

Islamabad: Civil society, facing numerous basic issues, has demanded of the new government to take immediate steps for holding local bodies elections in the country so that the problems of people could be resolved.

The demand for local bodies polls was made by Syed Kausar Abbas, a civil society activist and Program Manager of Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), here on Monday.
He said that Pakistan did not have elected local government system since 2008 in all four provinces which is increasing the issues of public at the grassroots level. Kausar Abbas said that the federal and provincial government should stop the funds of all members of parliament and the development funds should be spent through the elected local government representatives in all over the country.
He further said that this was the prime responsibility of provincial governments after 18th Amendment that each province should legislate its own local government policy.
The entire province is independent after 18th Amendment but unfortunately they were failed to conduct the local government elections. He also said that by having elected local government system the problems of the people can be resolved at the grassroots level and at their door steps. He said that the government should immediately stop the development funds of all MPs and hold free, fair and transparent local government elections in all the provinces.

ISLAMABAD: As the Senate Committee’s draft bill on the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013 has come under sharp criticism, RTI activists have declared it in contravention of the Constitution.

There is a long negative list (borrowing an analogy from Pak-India trade) and a small positive list of the information one can apply for. The draft law does not contain any definition of information and more energy has been spent in spelling out categories of information a citizen cannot access through a petition as six sections of the bill deal with the ‘negative list’.

Zahid Abdullah, Coordinator Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI), has urged the Senate sub-committee on information and broadcasting (author of this draft) to adopt the Freedom of Information Law 2013 of the Punjab after getting input from the civil society.

Punjab’s law was drafted by the caretaker government headed by chief minister Najam Sethi. Being a seasoned journalist, Sethi was determined to pass the draft into law through an ordinance; it was later decided to be left for the newly elected government to do.

Chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had promised while talking to The News said that the information law will be the first bill to be pushed through the Punjab Assembly.

All eyes are set on him to see whether or not he translates his commitment into reality. The draft law is toothless and offers no hope of breaking the tight wall of secrecy by introducing radical clauses.

The draft law, according to CRTI, is in contravention of the spirit of Article 19-A of the Constitution. It is ironic that the draft law on right to information does not contain a clear definition of information, Zahid Abdullah said. The focus of the draft law is on enlisting categories of information that will not be provided to the citizens and six sections have been devoted for this purpose, he explained.

There should have been only one section enlisting information exempted from disclosure and the rest of the information should have been declared public as is the practice in effective laws around the world including India and Bangladesh, a statement issued by CRTI said.

Instead of establishing an independent information commission, the Federal Ombudsman has been entrusted with the task of playing the role of appellate body. If we want to ensure the free flow of information from public bodies to the citizens, the establishment of independent and autonomous information commission is a prerequisite as is the case in many countries including India and Bangladesh, CRTI argued.

Taking decisions on contentious matters pertaining to the right to information is a specialised job, which should only be entrusted to an independent and autonomous information commission.

Further, the role of the appellant body pertaining to the right to information is not just to decide disputes regarding access to information, which often involves vested interests and powerful mafias, and requires certain skills and competencies.

Its functions also include ensuring the proactive disclosure of information, issuing guidelines in this regard to the government and presenting an annual ‘state of right to information’ in the country to the legislative body, said CRTI statement.

The argument that the establishment of a new entity will incur extra expenditures does not really hold water. The benefits of an accountable and transparent government resulting from the efforts of a powerful information commission will far outweigh the costs of establishing such an institution, CRTI explains.

The caretaker Punjab government drafted a much better law in the shape of Punjab Freedom of Information Ordinance 2013, which is under the consideration of the Punjab government, than the one proposed by the Senate sub-committee. CPDI urges the federal government to adopt the draft Punjab Freedom of Information Ordinance 2013 after input from civil society organisations and media.

Press Release: CPDI appreciate PMLN Statement to stop MPs Development Funds

Press Release
CPDI appreciate PMLN Statement to Stop MPs Development Funds
Islamabad, May 23, 2013: Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) welcomes the statement of Mian Nawaz Sharif to stop constituency development funds (CDF) to members of National and Provincial Assemblies for two years. It was told that decision to lift the ban will be taken once the economic conditions and electricity crises are dealt with. The statement also mentioned that there are chances to obliterate such funds forever. According to him Parliament should focus on its legislative work and leave the local government to execute the development work.
CPDI appreciates the contents of this statement but has reservations on the spirit of this statement. Provision of such funds should not be made conditional with the uplift in economic situation in the country. These funds are tantamount to trespass in the domain of local government. Local development should be left to local government alone.
CPDI has long taken the position that constituency development funds put on the disposal of MPs are against the spirit of separation of powers, whereby legislators job is to legislate for people. Legislatures are large bodies that made decision collectively, usually by majority vote. On can debate the quality of discussion, participation and voting procedures in assembly but the fact remains that decisions are made collectively. CDF, on the other hand, is departure from the spirit of collective decision-making. Here policy decisions are taken by individual MPs with little participation from people, for whom such decisions are being taken. A research conducted by CPDI in district Rawalpindi in year 2012 depicted that not a single MPA ever consulted his voters before deciding the development priorities of the constituency.
CPDI also believe that this announcement should be prelude to the resurrection of local government system in the country. This system has been deliberately ignored in the past to provide a chance to the members of national and provincial assemblies to lure constituents through development project. That practice should be stopped at once and local government system should be revived through out the country according to the spirit of article 32 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Budget Study Centre
Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives

CPDI Comments on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Access to Information Act 2013

It is very encouraging that the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has prepared draft law on right to information. Our comments on the draft are presented in the Table below. Our comments are based on the following:

  • International standards regarding right to information legislation, which include (a) maximum disclosure; (b) minimal exception, (c) obligation for proactive disclosure; (d) process to facilitate access; (e) minimal costs; (f) disclosure should take precedence; (g) open meetings; and (h) duty to assist.
  •  CPDI’s own experience (and the insights thus gained) of using the existing Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002; as well as of submitting and perusing information requests submitted to various government departments at the Federal, provincial and district levels.
  •  Regional legislation (e.g. Indian Right to Information Act 2005 and the Bangladesh’s Right to Information Act 2009) and the experience of the implementation of these laws.This draft needs to be improved to make it consistent with Article 19-A of the Constitution as well as with the regional and international standards. A good right to information act can make a significant difference in terms of empowering citizens, improving governance, strengthening democracy, instituting public accountability and bring about transparency in government functioning. The comments presented below are not exhaustive, as these have been prepared in-house in a short duration. CPDI may be presenting additional ideas and suggestions later, if need be. The following table contains CPDI comments on specific sections of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Access to Information Act 2013.

CPDI Comments on specific sections of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Access to Information Act 2013.

Provisions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Access to Information Act 2013CPDI Comments
Section 2 DefinitionsDefinition of public body in Section 2 (i) needs to be expanded. Its scope may be expanded to include all kinds of for-profit and not-for-profit non-governmental organizations that are working in Pakistan.
Section 2(j): Information should also include the categories of information like agreement, feasibility report, inquiry reports, budget, official expenses, and records of payments, records of procurements, quotations, tenders, bills, expense claims, vouchers, reimbursement records and work sheets.
Section 7,8,14,15,16,17,18Like Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, (FOI 2002), it contains three lists of records, a, discloseables records (Section 7, undiscloseables (Section 8) and list of exempted information (Section 14,15,16,17,18). A good right to information law has only one narrowly and clearly drawn list of exempted information and the rest of the information is declared public information. In a democratic country, people have all the right to know how government uses the powers and resources at its disposal, which should only be used in the larger public interest. Section 8 excludes from disclosure noting on the files or minutes of meetings or summaries and intermediary opinions. Any exclusion of documents and information relating to internal working will negate peoples’ right in this regard and, hence, will undermine their ability to oversee and make suggestions for increasing efficiency or improving performance. This is clearly an unreasonable restriction and is, therefore, in contravention of Article 19-A of the Constitution.

People have the right to know about the considerations, factors or arguments taken (or not taken) into account in the process of making a particular decision or passing an order. Hence, without having full access to information about noting on the files or minutes of meetings or summaries and intermediary opinions, it would not be possible for people at large and direct stakeholders in particular to give timely input and present additional information or perspectives, which might lead to improved decision making. It is, therefore, very important that, barring minimal exceptions, all information must be accessible for public comments and feedback.
Section 20 Applet BodyKhyber Pakhtunkhwa Access to Information Act 2013 also envisages Ombudsman as an appellant body. Punjab Freedom of Information Act 2012 approved by the Punjab Cabinet envisaged the establishment of five member Punjab Information Commission, an independent and autonomous body. This is the practice in most of the countries of the world. In our own region, India and Bangladesh have also established independent and autonomous information commission. Our experience of submitting information requests to government departments shows that Federal Ombudsman is a toothless appellant body in terms of making effective intervention and helping citizens have access to information when it such a request to public bodies is unlawfully denied. One, Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 does not empower Federal Ombudsman to impose penalty on public officials for wrongfully denying access to information. Two, the experience also shows that Federal Ombudsman deals complaints with the narrow prism of maladministration and not denial of fundamental right of citizen which it is entrusted to protect. Three, even in cases where Federal Ombudsman instructed to provide information, public bodies generally opted to file representation to the President of Pakistan instead of providing us the requested information. Therefore, it is recommended that Ombudsman as an applet body should be done away with in the proposed KPK law and independent and autonomous information commission on the lines of draft Punjab Freedom of Information Act be established.

Section 13Reasonable time limit for public bodies to respond to information requests is considered to be 21 days. Seven days suggested in Section 13 is not sufficient time for public officials to collect and share information.

Caretaker Information Minister, Mosarrat Qadeem pledges to draft effective right to information law for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Peshawar, April 30, 2013: there are plethora of records related to a common man that are held by public bodies. There have never been public services messages about the fee and procedures making people aware how common people can have access to their own records. Neither public bodies display such information at prominent places at their premises. As a result, a common man runs from pillar to post, offers bribes for the copies of his own records like Fard, Fard, Fard beah, Khasra paimaish, Jamabundi, General and special power of attorney, Final court order/judgment and decree, Records of plaint, petitions and written statements of civil, criminal, family and rent cases, any interim order of the court, record of order sheet of any case which he should be able to get by paying a fee of two rupees per page. This lack of information about fee and procedures to get copies of these records results in corruption and hardships for a common man. These views were expressed by speakers in a seminar on ‘Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Public Bodies and Proactive Disclosure of Information’ held by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, (CPDI) in a local hotel in Peshawar. Ms. Mosarrat Qadeem, Caretaker Minister for Information, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told the participants that KPK caretaker government was working to improve the existing draft Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Access to Information Act 2013. She pledged that the draft information law for the province will be a highly effectively law according to our own traditions. Mr. Furrukh Seir, Caretaker Minister for Health KPK was of the view that information was two way process and those seeking information should be prepared as how to use the information. Mr., Zaheer Khattack, Executive Director, Urban Rural Development Organization, (URDO) was of the view that information desks are not functional at government departments due to which citizens have to face lot of difficulties. Mr. Idrees Kamal, eminent rights activists shared with the participants that people generally do not use the existing procedures and instead get things done by offering brines. Ms. Azra Nafees Yousafzai, Executive Director, Centre for Governance and Public Accountability, (CGPA) shared with the participants the experience of submitting information requests with the public bodies to seek budget docments. She said that public bodies were not willing to share even budget documents and declared these documents as secret documents. Mr. Zahid Abdullah, Program Manager CPDI shared with the participants that the district Copying Manual contains list of public records and citizens can get copies of these records by depositing prescribed fee to the concerned department. However, majority of citizens do not know about the fee and procedures to get copies of public records held by courts, revenue department and other district public bodies. He also stressed the need for proactive disclosure of information by public departments through their web sites. He was of the view that online sharing of information will go a long way in improving service delivery. The participants of the seminar demanded the provincial government to take launch awareness campaign about the procedure and fee for getting copies of public records from revenue, courts and union councils. They also demanded that all district should be duty-bound to prominently display information about procedures and fee at their web sites and at prominent places on their premises.

Seminar speakers urge Punjab revenue departments, courts and union councils to improve service delivery by displaying information about their functions at prominent places

Lahore, April 23, 2013: The District Copying Manual contains list of public records and citizens can get copies of these records by depositing prescribed fee to the concerned department. There have never been public services messages about the fee and procedures making people aware how common people can have access to their own records. Neither public bodies display such information at prominent places at their premises. Consequently, a majority of citizens do not know about the fee and procedures to get copies of public records held by courts, revenue department and other district public bodies. These views were expressed by speakers in a seminar on ‘Punjab Public Bodies and Proactive Disclosure of Information’ held by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, (CPDI) in a local hotel in Lahore. Mr. Zahid Abdullah, Program Manager CPDI shared with the participants that there are plethora of records related to a common man that are held by public bodies. The power wielded by the public officials stems from the ignorance of the masses. As a result, a common man runs from pillar to post, offers bribes for the copies of his own records like Fard, Fard, Fard beah, Khasra paimaish, Jamabundi, General and special power of attorney, Final court order/judgment and decree, Records of plaint, petitions and written statements of civil, criminal, family and rent cases, any interim order of the court, record of order sheet of any case which he should be able to get by paying a fee of two rupees per page. This lack of information about fee and procedures to get copies of these records results in corruption and hardships for a common man. Senior journalist, Shahzada Irfan stressed the need for proactive disclosure of information by public departments through their web sites. He was of the view that online sharing of information will go a long way in improving service delivery. He lamented the fact that even district Lahore web site is not functioning. The participants of the seminar demanded the provincial government to take launch awareness campaign about the procedure and fee for getting copies of public records from revenue, courts and union councils. They also demanded that all district should be duty-bound to prominently display information about procedures and fee at their promises.