ISLAMABAD: Two Right to Information (RTI) requests asking same questions have drawn different response as Punjab has concealed facts whereas Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provided all requested details in true letter and spirit of the RTI law, referred as sunshine law.
The Punjab Information Department, responding to a question, claimed that the Information Commission has its office that has been out-rightly rejected by the chief information commissioner who operates from home due to non-availability of any proper work place.
While there is an organized resistance of bureaucracy to the Information Commission of Punjab, the commission has been doing a laudable job even from home by holding to account to the government departments blocking information.
Recently, the EDO (Education) Vehari Mukhtar Hussain Chawan was fined equivalent to two-month salary for unlawfully delaying access to information. It also recommended departmental action against the EDO Chawan for coercing the complainant.
The News sent RTI requests to KP and Punjab on October 15, inquiring about the status of the Information Commission, their addresses, salary structure of staff, number of principle information officers appointed, disposal of complaints and the officials penalized for blocking the information.
In both cases, separate letters were sent to the provincial secretaries of information and chief information commissioners. The replies received from Punjab were sent by the Information Department, and the chief information commissioner has yet to answer as the letter addressed to him was mysteriously dumped in the Ministry of Information unlike the past.
There is no office so far set up for Punjab’s Information Commission and correspondence addressed to the chief information commissioner is generally routed through the office of the secretary information.
Out of 17 questions submitted through RTI request—one inquired about the existence of Information Commission office, its address and contact numbers, the reply from Punjab’s Information Department claimed the office exists and is situated at 21-Mehmood Ghazanvi Road, Lahore. No contact number of that office was mentioned in the answer dispatched to The News.
However, when Punjab’s Chief Information Commissioner Mazhar Hussain Minhas was contacted at his mobile phone for confirming, he denied having been allotted any office yet. Not only chief information commissioner, two information commissioners: Mukhtar Ahmed and Ahmed Raza Tahir also work from home due to non-availability of any office. No budget has been allocated for the information commission.
Asked why he did not reply to The News’ RTI request asking similar questions to him, Minhas said he did not receive the questions yet. This raised the suspicion as to why the Information Ministry hesitated to deliver a letter sent for him.
Contrast this with KP where from The News received replies of the chief information commissioner in comprehensive manners.Information commissions of KP and Punjab were both set up in March 2014, the former has its proper set-up, including offices, staff, contact details and website carrying all related information. The situation is contrary in Punjab where there is organized resistance from bureaucracy to the Information Commission.
There is no office in place, hence the chief information commissioner and two information commissioners have converted their homes into work place issuing orders against the department blocking information but unable to fix those who are blocking smooth functioning of the commission.
While the Information Department replied to The News claiming an office of the Information Commission, the information commissioner denied it. “We don’t have any office,” he said when contacted through telephone.
To another question asking the number of Information Commission’s staff, their designation and salaries, Punjab Information Department chose to answer this: “As mentioned above.” To another question inquiring the salaries of each staff member, this was the reply: “The allied staff deputed is getting salaries as per their pay scale.”
On the other hand, KP Information Commission sent the list of staff members, their names, designation along with the break-up of their salary.The Punjab Information Commission has so far received 480 complaints, and it decided 185 of them, resource constraints notwithstanding. One officer, EDO (Education) Vehari has also been penalized for blocking the information. The KP Information Commission received 175 complaints and 100 of them have been resolved. No officer has shown defiance to a level where it could be penalized.
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