A right step towards Right to Information

May 14, 2006: Leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party and the PML-N sign the Charter of Democracy. In it is a clause that reads: “Access to information will become law after parliamentary debate and public scrutiny”. Yet to this date, the Freedom of Information Ordinance (FIO) 2002 at the centre stands unrepealed.

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KP govt using helicopters in violation of rules

ISLAMABAD: Tall claims of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to end the VIP culture in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) have dashed to the ground as KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and members of his cabinet, who were not entitled to avail this facility, used official helicopters on 32 occasions in violation of the rules and procedures, sources told The News here on Saturday. Referring to the official record, the sources revealed that the flight duration of two official helicopters is 163:35 hours and fuel worth Rs11 million has been used for these flights during the tenure of PTI-led provincial government that also included visit of the KP chief minister and some of his cabinet members to Karak where they attended marriage ceremony of their party MPA.

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Citizens’ oversight of the 18th amendment

Peshawar,Despite its passage over four years ago, two successive governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have made no progress on implementation of 18th amendment in letter and spirit.

This was discussed during a one-day conference on ‘Citizens’ Oversight on Implementation of 18th Amendment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’ organized by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) in collaboration of Citizens’ Voice Project – USAID, here on Wednesday.

CPDI launched a comprehensive analysis on implementation status of 18th amendment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa here on Wednesday. 18th amendment, passed in April 2014 was heralded as one of the most comprehensive constitutional reform package after the 1973 constitution.

The respective amendment introduced 102 amendments and transferred constitutional, legislative, policy formulation, administrative, and financial powers to the provinces concerning 17 ministries and departments related to social welfare and public service delivery.

Considered as a pre-requisite for strengthening of the federation through empowering federating units, the amendment faces a number of challenges to its implementation. Some of the challenges highlighted during the conference included lack of capacities of the respective politicians, public officials, and masses at large, confusion on understanding of roles and responsibilities between province and the federal government, and lack of an operational framework that may serve as a guiding principle to the much longed for implementation of the amendment.

Given these challenges, speakers and participants of the conference agreed on following measures: Respective policy makers, public officials, journalists, civil society representatives, and citizens should be educated on the contours of 18th constitutional amendment; a formal consultation process should be started where input from respective communities and other stakeholders should be solicited and documented; capacity of the political representative and higher public officials should be built; the federal government should prepare modules and booklets that may serve as reference points for the public officials and policymakers alike; an annual scorecard should be conducted to measure progress on implementation of the respective amendment.

The conference was attended by Speaker Provincial Assembly Asad Qaiser, Minister for Education Atif Khan, Senior Minister (KPK) Inayat-ullah-Khan, member Awami National Party (ANP) Haji Adeel, Senior Journalist Raheem-ullah Yousafzai, Amer Ejaz (Executive Director-CPDI), CPDI Program Manager Syed Kausar Abbas, former education minister (KPK) Sardar Hussain Babak, former education minister Meraj Hamayun, Member National Assembly Ayesha Gulalai, Iftikhar Durani (Governance specialist), Senior Anchor Absaar Alam and Fareeha Idrees, Secretary Higher education Farah Hamid, senior secretaries of provincial government and other senior politicians of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, Jamat-e-Islami, Awami National Party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party.
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Training sought for officials making budget at district level

TIMERGARA: A non-profit civil society organisation has compiled a study showing that budget making process at district level in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is dismally weak and called for proper training and provision of required facilities to the concerned officers to ensure efficient budget making.

The study on budget making process in KP by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) highlights that the budget preparation process is very weak in 18 districts (86 per cent), and moderate in 14 districts.

The report was launched at the Chakdara Press Club on Monday during a ceremony attended by social activists, journalists and elders.

CPDI programme manager Syed Kausar Abbas informed the participants that the budget call letters (BCL) was not circulated on time in 67 per cent districts in case of health, 63 per cent districts in case of education and 55 per cent districts in case of agriculture.

The study showed that majority of the departments had not received the budget calendar at all, pointed out Mr Abbas, saying that even the date of release of budget was not mentioned in many cases.

“Pre-budget consultation is very poor, as no such exercise took place in 90 per cent of the districts,” he maintained, adding that public release of pre-budget statement and preparation and release of citizen budget were not practiced at all.

Mr Abbas said it was observed that there was acute shortage of skilled budget staff in the districts.

The data shows that in agriculture department, 11 districts confirmed the fact that they had not submitted their new development project proposals; in case of education, 13 districts had not submitted the proposals; and in health, six districts couldn’t submit their new development proposals.

The CPDI programme manager said that the survey showed that agriculture and education departments of 11 districts and health department in five districts had no access to the internet facility.

The report asked for capacity building of the district level officers in planning and making of budget, accounting, procurement and monitoring and evaluation.

DOCTORS’ ALLEGED NEGLIGENCE: Fawad, 10, who was the only brother of nine sisters, died at the district headquarters hospital here late on Sunday night due to alleged negligence of doctors.

The relatives, political workers and social activists demanded inquiry into the death of the boy, of Karo Darra area of Upper Dir, who was brought to the emergency ward of the hospital after he felt severe abdominal pain.

The relatives put his body in front of the MS office and chanted slogans against the hospital administration. They alleged that there had been no staffer in the ward to treat the ailing boy.

They said they repeatedly called the male nurse but he too was absent from duty. However, the protesters dispersed after Timergara assistant commissioner issued suspension orders of the male nurse.

Published in Dawn, November 11th , 2014
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Punjab conceals facts while KP provides requested details

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.

<a href=”http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-282577-Punjab-conceals-facts-while-KP-provides-requested-details” target=”_blank”>The News Link</a>

Budget-making process ‘non-transparent’

ISLAMABAD: Budget making process in Pakistan continues to be obscure amid the creative budgeting practices such as block allocations.

This was highlighted in a recent research study on Budget Transparency and Accountability in Punjab conducted by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI).

During the study, it was revealed that for fiscal year 2014-15, Punjab’s development budget has a total allocation of Rs358 billion, out of which Rs58 billion (16%) are block allocations that lack details of the projected expenditures.

Although this depicts a relative improvement when compared to the previous year’s (2013-14) budget that had 48% share of block allocations, the share of ‘other allocations’ has significantly increased to 46%, compared to 20% in budget last year.

Though the development budget for the fiscal year 2014-15 has decreased under the “Block Allocations”, this burden has actually shifted to “Other Allocations”, noted CPDI. To ensure better transparency and accountability, it is necessary that the government makes clear classifications in its budget books.

Secretive measures like block allocations and other allocations should be reduced to make the budget-making process more transparent.

The answer to practical democracy is active involvement of people at every step of governance including the budget making process, the study said. However, the budget-making process has been largely ambiguous due to which people no opportunity to participate in the process that directly affects the quality of their lives.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2014.

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