Right to Information in Pakistan-A Historical Perspective
Right to Information in Pakistan-A Historical Perspective
Right to Information in Pakistan-A Historical Perspective
ISLAMABAD: While Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is vehemently preaching austerity and end to VIP culture, his chief minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Pervaiz Khattak has spent Rs2.6 million of the public money on entertainment and bakery items alone during the last one year, The News has learnt.
According to documents provided by the KP Chief Minister’s House, an amount of Rs22.8 million was spent from August 1, 2013 to August 31, 2014 by the CM House under various heads.The official figures were provided in response to an information request filed by this correspondent under the KPK Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013.
The statement of month-wise expenditure of the Chief Minister’s House revealed that an amount of Rs2,556,491 was spent on entertainment and bakery items during the above-mentioned period. The total amount spent on only bakery items remained Rs565,240 while the entertainment cost the national exchequer an amount of Rs1,991,728.The official figures also disclosed that an amount of Rs10.1 million was spent by the KP Chief Minister’s House on electricity bills while gas bills accounted for Rs1.7 million.
The telephone expenses for the same period remained Rs381,274 while an amount of Rs7,966,491 was spent on salaries of the staff.The official response also testified that no gift had been presented to any guest/person by the chief minister KP during the period.
It is pertinent to mention here that this scribe has also forwarded an information request to Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif about the break-up of expenses during the period from August 2013 to August 2014 under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013. Although, the request to Punjab Chief Minister House was also sent on the same day when the KP Chief Minister’s House was requested about the information, so far no response has been given by the Punjab government.
The News filed the information request to both the KP and Punjab CM houses on 18th September 2013. Under the Punjab RTI Act 2013, the officials have to respond to an information request within 14 working days.
ISLAMABAD: The News investigative reporter Umar Cheema has won Coalition on Right to Information’s (CRTI) RTI Annual Champion Award for his efforts to promote right to information through investigative reporting and filing of over one dozen information requests with various government departments.
The award was given in a ceremony hosted by Centre for Peace and Development (CPDI) at a local hotel on Thursday to mark the 12th International Right to Information Day.
The award was given in three categories i.e. journalists, citizen and organization. In category of journalist, the award was given to Umar Cheema. According to organizers, Cheema contributed excellent analytical reports on RTI, perhaps, more than any other reporter. He has also submitted 20 information requests under different RTI laws.
In citizen’s category, Sabahat Ghaznavi won the 1st Annual Champion Award. He was given award on first known case of citizen using KP RTI law for getting job.
In organization’s category Centre for Governance and Public Accountability won the CRTI-RTI Annual Champion Award. CGPA has not only been advocating for RTI law for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but it has also submitted 143 information requests to contribute to the implementation of this law.
Earlier the CPDI’s conference on ‘People’s Right to Information was told that despite enactment of Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 in December last year and the appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners in April, the Punjab government had not released funds for the functioning of the Punjab Information Commission.
The speakers at the conference also urged the Punjab government to release funds for the Punjab Information Commission on urgent basis so that it can implement Punjab Right to Information Law.
The speakers included Dr. Almut Besold, Country Representative Friedrich Naumann Foundation; Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid, Chief Information Commissioner, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission; Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, Information Commissioner, Punjab Information Commission; Tasneem Noorani, former secretary Ministry of Interior; Aftab Alam, Executive Director IRADA; Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director CGPA; Zafarullah Khan, Executive Director CCE; Umar Cheema, Mazhar Abbas, senior journalists, and Zahid Abdullah, Coordinator Coalition on Right to Information.
Dr. Besold stressed upon the importance of RTI Laws. “People should make their governments accountable through these RTI laws,” he said.Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director CGPA, said the civil society and media should cooperate with the Information Commission in raising awareness regarding the RTI. He expressed concern about anti-RTI lobbies which are active to weaken RTI laws.
Sahibzada Khalid Mehmood, Chief Information Commissioner Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said freedom to seek information was the basic right of every individual. He said Scandinavian countries were least corrupt due to strong RTI Laws implemented there.
Culture of secrecy, mass awareness and empowering people through the RTI are the greater challenges faced by the KP Information Commission.A total of 122 single complaints and 18 bundle complaints have been received by the KP Information Commission since December 2013 out of which 75 complaints are resolved, he said.
Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Information Commissioner Punjab Information Commission, said no budget had been allocated for the establishment of Punjab Information Commission and the commissioners were working from their homes. He also shared information about the 14 upcoming trainings of public information officers.
The News Link
SAHIWAL: The bureaucracy backed by traditional red-tape has been good at concealing information from the public for decades but the time has come for them to share information with those seeking it.
District Coordination Officer (DCO) Dr Sajid Mahmood Chohan said this at an interactive public forum on ‘Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act of 2013’.
The forum was organised by the Centre for Peace Development Initiative (CPDI) and the Punjab Lok Sujag (PLS) at a hotel.
He said the Right to Information regime would boost confidence and trust between public officials and members of public, and would improve the government structure at all tiers.
Saleem Malik, CPDI resource person, informed Dawn the Right to Information Forum was aimed at sensitising district public officials like executive district officers and district and deputy district officers about the law and its requirements for the public.
During the discussion, several district officials seemed reluctant to accept the basic preamble of the law. One of the officials said why a public official or a public body should provide information to a citizen who was not a party concerned in the matter. Another objection by the participants was that information could be misused.
Officers raised eye-brows over the concept that the Right to Information regime was right of citizens. They said it was ironic if one public official or public body felt that the information being shared with an applicant could be misused, they should be empowered to hold it but the law provided that information could not be concealed.
Mr Saleem said bureaucrats felt insecure while sharing certified information with the public. He said such mindset stemmed from the colonial style of government as concealing information differentiated between “rulers” and “ruled” but now those who were “rulers” must also be the citizens of the same state.
PLS representative Alweera Rashid urged the participants to shed colonial era mindset.
The participant learned that law’s preamble recognised that citizens could hold government accountable through using the law “because under the Constitution, the provision of information is sanctioned under fundamental right category”.
The forum was also attended by citizens representatives. One of the participants, Zafar Ghumman said if citizens developed concern over governance structure, no one would be able to misuse information. Khawar Farid, another participant, recommended that the law be used to expose “corrupt” practices in district governments.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd , 2014
ISLAMABAD: Contrary to common belief that the government spends a heavy amount on sighting of moon only Rs2.6 million were spent on meetings of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee during last fiscal year.
The amount was spent on air-tickets, and hotel stay of the members who travelled from other parts of the country to Karachi for five meetings of the committee during June 2013 to June 2014.
The information was provided on the official request by a civil society activist Zahid Abdullah who moved Wafaqi Mohtasib (Ombudsman) secretariat after refusal by the ministry to provide the information.
According to the ministry Rs452,259 were spent on the committee’s meeting on July 9, 2013 for sighting of Ramazal ul-Mubarak 1434 Hijri moon. The next meeting held on 8th August for the sighting of Shawwal moon cost Rs345,079 to national exchequer.
An amount of Rs628,980 was spent on committee’s meeting on October 6, 2013 for sighting Zilhaj moon. Exactly the same amount was spent on sighting of Muharram moon on 4th November 2013 while Rs508,200 were spent on Ramazan moon sighting on June 28, 2014.
Abdullah also sought information from zonal Ruet-e-Hilal committees under RTI laws of Punjab and KPK. According to information provided by zonal committees around Rs100,768 have been spent on Punjab’s committee during last one year.
When contacted, Zahid Abdullah said he wanted to know how much money is spent on moon-sighting in the country as despite expenses the controversy regarding sighting of the moon continues.
However chairman of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman said the government does not provide a signal penny as salary to any member or even the chairman of the committee.
“I do not get any kind of monetary benefits like medical, housing, official cars. The amount mentioned in official response is provided by the ministry for the travel expenses of the committee members who are not residing in Karachi and their boarding in a non-star hotel,” he said.
The religious scholar was of the view that Pakistan’s moon sighting system is best in the world as it incorporates scientific and religious methods, resulting in best outcome.
“We seek help of the scientist to ascertain the chances of sighting the moon and use this information for cross-questioning the witnesses of moon sighting so that we could check the authenticity of testimony,” he said. The chairman said media is spreading disinformation about the heavy expenses on the committee.
He said the controversy regarding moon-sighting is a result of ignorance and desire of personal projection by some elements.
Government is custodian of the information and citizens have the right to access information held by government departments to ensure judicious use of public resources. Every year on 28th September, Right to Know day is celebrated throughout the world to highlight citizen’s right to information held by the governments.
Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives celebrated the day by organizing awareness raising walk that started from National Press Club, the walk participants went to Super Market and the walk culminated from where it started, National Press Club. The walk participants demanded the repeal of existing Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and its replicas in Balochistan and Sindh and demanded the federal and provincial governments to enact effective right to information laws as have been enacted by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, (CPDI) organized similar awareness raising walks about right to information in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sargodha, Jhang, Liyya, Multan, Lodharawn and Bahawalpur.
Though effective on papers, the implementation status of Punjab and KPK right to information laws is not up to the mark.
As the world celebrates 12th International Right to Know Day today, it would be appropriate to take stock of the legislative landscape of right to information laws of the country with special focus on the implementation status of these laws.
So far as legislation is concerned, we have Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 for public to access information from federal public bodies and Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2006, Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 and Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 cover provincial and district public bodies. Whereas FOIO 2002 and its replicas in Balochistan and Sindh are largely ineffective and toothless laws, KP and Punjab introduced highly robust and progressive right to information laws in 2013 that meet international standards of effective right to information legislation.
Having effective laws on paper is one thing but getting them implemented on the ground is another. For example, independent and autonomous information commissions were to be established under both KP and Punjab right to information laws.
The establishment of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission was a relatively smooth affair: One Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners were appointed, and the KP Information Commission got the budgetary support in time and started functioning soon after its establishment. This has not been the case in Punjab where Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners have been appointed since this April.
These commissioners are drawing salaries but the provincial government has yet to allocate budget for the functioning of the commission. As KP Information Commission has funds at its disposal, it has launched awareness raising campaign about citizen’s right to information and has imparted trainings to Public Information Officers designated by public bodies under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 to provide the requested information to citizens.
In a recent research conducted by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, 924 information requests were submitted to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab public bodies under their respective laws from January 02, 2014 to September 16 2014. These information requests were followed-up at all stages and complaints were lodged with the respective appellate bodies when access to requested information was delayed or unlawfully denied.
The purpose of submitting information request to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab public bodies was to collect empirical evidence about the level of effectiveness of Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2014 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2014. The fact that information was provided in case of only 115 information requests out of a total of 924 shows that the low priority of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab public bodies in terms of responding to information requests.
In case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa public bodies, a total of 328 information requests were submitted under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 and information was provided in case of 76 information requests. In case of Punjab public bodies, a total of 596 information requests were submitted under Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 and information was provided in case of 39 information requests.
In other words, 23 per cent information requests were responded positively by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa public bodies whereas only 6.54 per cent information requests were positively responded by Punjab public bodies. A total of 215 complaints have been lodged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission and it has asked 43 public bodies to provide the requested information but only one public body has provided the requested information. This clearly shows that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission needs to be more proactive in resolving complaints lodged by citizens and civil society groups.
As Punjab Information Commission does not have office, therefore, complaints were lodged to Chief Information Commissioner through Secretary Information Department. Out of a total of 376 complaints lodged, the Punjab Information Commission has asked 225 public bodies to provide the requested information out of which 53 public bodies have provided the requested information. This demonstrates that Punjab Information Commission is doing relatively better when compared with KP Information Commission despite the fact that its commissioners do not have offices and secretarial support.
Apart from providing requested information on demand, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa public bodies are bound to proactively disclose certain categories of information under Sections 4 and 5 of their respective laws.
Each public body is bound to proactively publish, among other things, such critical information about amount of subsidy and details of beneficiaries if the public body provides any subsidy, budget of the public body including details of all proposed and actual expenditures, a directory of its officers and employees with their respective remuneration, perks and privileges and a description of its decision-making processes.
If ‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information’ and ‘Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’, a research report conducted by Digital Rights Foundation after six months of the enactment of KP and Punjab laws, is any guide, implementation of provisions pertaining to proactive disclosure of information does not seem to be a priority for public bodies in both the provinces.
With regard to information about a public body, its functions and duties, Punjab scored an average score of 6.76, while K-P scored 7.08 out of a possible 10. So far as sharing information about budget of the public body including details of all proposed and actual expenditures is concerned, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa scored better than Punjab, scoring 1.5 to Punjab’s 0.64.
However, with regard to information about the recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by the public bodies, all the 17 Punjab and 12 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa public bodies performed abysmally low and scored zero and 0.11 on average, respectively.
This analysis of both on demand provision of information and the proactive disclosure of information suggests that both the commissions will have to work very hard to implement their respective laws. These are still early days for both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission and Punjab Information Commissions for a verdict to be issued on their performance. However, jury will not remain out for long.
Meanwhile, chief minister of Punjab needs to figure out why his administration has not been able to allocate budget for Punjab Information Commission despite the appointment of information commissioners five months earlier.
By Zahid Abdullah
TNS News Link
ISLAMABAD: Despite enactment of Right to Information (RTI) laws in two major provinces of the country, the bureaucracy in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) continues to offer stiff resistance to efforts for transparency, openness and good governance.
According to a latest research study, the baboos in the two provinces are reluctant to acknowledge people’s right to information as they withheld information in over 87 per cent cases despite proper filing of request by citizens under RTI laws.
During the study, 924 information requests were sent to the governments of Punjab and KP under their respective RTI laws but the response was only received against 115 (12.4 per cent) of them.
Under the new laws, the public bodies are bound to provide the requisite information within a couple of weeks to ensure transparency and good governance.
However, the study conducted by Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) shows that although KP’s Right to Information Act 2013 and Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 meet international standards of such legislation, the culture of secrecy is still hampering free flow of information in these two provinces.
CPDI sent 924 information requests on matters of public importance to KPK and Punjab public bodies under their respective RTI laws from January 2, 2014 to September 16, 2014. These information requests were followed up at all stages and complaints were lodged with respective appellate bodies when access to requested information was delayed or unlawfully denied.
“The fact that information was provided in case of only 115 information requests out of total 924 shows the low priority of KP and Punjab public bodies in terms of responding to information request” the study says. The study shows that the requested information was provided only in 76 cases out of total 328 information requests filed to KP public bodies without the intervention of KP Information Commission. In Punjab the information was provided in 39 cases out of total 596 information requests without the intervention of Punjab Information Commission.
“These facts show how much work needs to be done in terms of raising awareness level of public officials in both the provinces about citizens’ right to information,” says the study.The study also expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of appellate bodies in both provinces.
During the study a total of 215 complaints were lodged with KP information commission against various government bodies for withholding information but despite commission’s letters to 43 public bodies only one responded with the required information.
In Punjab 376 complaints were lodged against public bodies for failing to provide information under RTI law and the provincial commission directed 225 such bodies to provide the information but only 53 complied with the directions.
The study recommended the Punjab and KP commission to ensure implementation of sections pertaining to the proactive disclosure of information so that maximum information is available in public domain.It has also urged the KP Commission to suggest to the provincial government to bring KP Right to Information Act 2013 within Peshawar High Court purview.