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

 

Dawn News Link

People’s education assembly held

A District Level People’s Education Assembly 2013 was held here on Saturday. Political representatives, district representatives, academia, educationists, teachers, civil society representatives and media were present on the occasion.
The assembly was organised by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), in collaboration of Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE). The assembly was hosted and conducted by CPDI Programme Manager Syed Kausar Abbas, whereas EDO (Education) Qazi Zahoor ul Haq, PTI MPA Asif Mahmood, PML-N MPA Tehseen Fawad and Education Planning Director Syed Saleem Raza were present on the education. Article 25 (A) of the constitution that states that the state is responsible to provide free and compulsory education for the children from 4-16, was discussed in detail in the assembly.
Syed Saleem Raza said that last year for the Rawalpindi District, Rs5 billion were allocated that were further categorised into salaried and non-salaried budget. This year Rs7 billion has been allocated for Rawalpindi District for education.
EDO education while speaking on the education said that now they are talking about the age ranging from 4 to 16 that is the eligible age for studying in school and college. “Our government is already taking education as its top priority. Government has launched consolidation scheme in which the schools near to each other would be merged together to form different classes in villages. Our government in the last two years has given a road map for improving missing facilities in the schools emphasising on presence of the teachers as well as the presence of students in the school. This year also we are working on the missing facilities and each district is sensitised in this regard. By October 31st, we would rationalise teachers, but teachers then raise hue and cry and reach MPAs, MNAs to put pressure on EDO to reverse the decision,” he said.
Tahseen Fawad while speaking on the occasionsaid that Danish Schoolsestablished by Punjab Government are compatible with Atchison College in every regard. The only criteria to get your child enrolled in this school is merit.
Arif Abbasi said that PTI government’s top priority is education. “There is a need to see that after taking the salaries of teachers of the allocated budget what is left to be spent on education. It’s astonishing to see that Rs3 billion is being spent on Danish Schools, this money could have been utilised in providing the missing facilities in existing schools at grassroots level. Gradually after strengthening the existing infrastructure they can work on building extensive institutions,” he added.
The assembly concluded with the question and answer session in which the spokespersons answered the queries.
The News Link

Following the school paisa

Let me say a few words on the state of education sector in Punjab province which houses more than half of the country’s population and hub of social and economic development. Its capital has also called “political capital” of the country reflecting significance in shaping the political landscape of the country. So, beyond no doubt, developments in this part of the country mostly affects the development trajectory overall. Education, a guaranteed constitutional right of every child in Pakistan approved under the 18th amendment has fully charged the social environment in the province.
In the last few years, the provincial government has also taken meritorious steps in transforming the education landscape of the province by pumping more physical and human resources into the system. School improvements, provision of missing facilities, consolidation of primary schools, recruitments of teachers and induction of subject specialists are major steps for improvements in school education. A question always pinches me that too much resource have been allocated and distributed to the districts for service provision but the outcomes still remain at the lowest ebb. Punjab Millennium Development Goals Report 2011 depicts the dilapidated education state clearly signalizing towards missing of most of MDGs targets including education.
A distinctive debate clearly provides food for thought for public policy analysts that public money allocated to the education sector has not fully realized. This is obvious that money does not reach out to the intended users of education facility, so the question arises where does this go? The organizations involved in budget work in Pakistan, although few in numbers have seen it as a gigantic and tedious job to find out exact expenditures incurred. However, a culture has developed in last the few years when the civil society and the media has started using budget numbers in generating debate on education and its likely outcomes. This has really opened new ways of exploring the budget realities beyond its limits. In Punjab, education sector typically represents 60% of district budget provides an ample space for civil society to peep into the system and find out possible bottlenecks hindering education expenditures. The task is to follow the school money.
Globally, advanced tools have been employed to study the flow of public resources to various government hierarchies. Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS), a tracking tool has been first implemented in Uganda, produced unprecedented results including a decline in leakages in grants to schools from 80% in 1994 to 20% in 2001. The successful model has been picked up by other countries including Peru, Zambia, India, and Nepal brought results in key social sectors including primary education. Overall, PETS remains successful in identifying the low allocations, leakages, corruption, underlying reasons of weak resource delivery to the users including bureaucratic hurdles, administrative red-tapism and political pressures.
This is a well discussed fact that the previous government has prioritized the construction of mega physical projects including Metro Bus System in Lahore, which results in major redirection of resources from social sectors. In budget analyst jargon, it is termed as leakage which is usually unearthed by employing sophisticated expenditure tracking tools. Although, no significant research has focused on this exploring exact numbers behind this huge leakage from social sectors which will definitely hamper social development in the province.
In a diagnostic study initiated by CPDI, an Islamabad based think tank made use of expenditure tracking in the education sector. The early findings reveal that schools in Punjab do not get the intended public money allocated for their development and current expenditures. The leakage is rampant in all public schools. A clear distinction mark between salary and non-salary where schools do not get enough operational funds and the worst affected are primary schools. However, elementary and secondary get minimal funds which helps operate the school daily affairs.
This compels the school administration to raise funds either from the community or charge students. This fact is also verified from a World Bank study of 79 countries including Pakistan that 97 percent of end-users are charged some form of fees for education. Informal chats with school staff also revealed that students have to pay between Rs. 20 to Rs. 50 per month and the funds, thus raised, are utilized to pay utility charges and for minor repairs. Findings also reveal that 40 students from a primary school drop out and refuse to continue education at public school. Charging students is an absolute violation of Article-25 A which guarantees free education to all school going children.
Expenditure tracking unearth violation of the constitution of Pakistan and show the inability of the provincial government on implementation of Article-25A. Punjab government should devise student friendly education policy and strategies provide an enabling environment for free education to all school going children. CSOs should also work closely with the provincial government and provide research findings for effective implementation of Article-25A.
Gulbaz Ali Khan
The author is a social accountability practitioner based at Islamabad and may be reached at gulbazali@gmail.com
The Frontier Post

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