The Sindh Information Commission will finally start functioning under the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016 next month. The body has set up its office in the State Life Insurance Building opposite the Chief Minister House on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road in Karachi.
Last week the Accountant General Sindh had transferred the first quarter of the commission’s budget (Rs13.75 million) to the National Bank of Pakistan. In September 2018 the provincial government had allocated Rs55 million for the body.
The body’s commissioner, Sikandar Ali Hullio, told The News on Monday that the Sindh government is committed to implement the Act and promote the culture of transparency in the functioning of every public authority by setting up a practical system for every citizen to secure low-cost and quick access to information.
“It is mandatory that all citizens have the right to information to partake in the democratic process and further improve their involvement and contribution in public affairs.”
He said that some 25 to 30 employees of the Sindh Information Department will be transferred to the commission’s office to make it operational. A summary proposing their reposting has been forwarded to the CM and will hopefully be approved this week, he added.
“After the release of the second quarter of its budget, the commission will hire its own necessary staff members,” said Hullio, adding that setting up new public bodies usually takes time because of bureaucratic hurdles.
He said the Constitution gives every citizen the right to access public information, so the Sindh Information Commission will try to make sure that all public bodies in the province are actively disclosing information through their websites.
The Act states that an applicant seeking information can exercise the right to acquire a record held by any provincial government department or organisation using public funds. The designated official will respond to the application within 15 working days.
If the required information is not available with the relevant department, the officer concerned can take another 10 days for responding to the application. However, information needed to protect the life or liberty of an individual must be provided within two working days.
If an officer decides against providing the required information, they will inform the applicants about the reasons for their decision as well as provide a statement so that the applicant may file for an internal review.
The department will not charge any sort of fee for making a request other than the cost of reproducing or sending the information in accordance with a centrally set schedule of costs stipulated by the commission.
Regarding a refusal to provide information, the body will decide a complaint within 45 days of its receipt and ensure to pass the appropriate orders, including recommending disciplinary proceedings against the delinquent officials.
If an official provides misleading information, the commission has the power to cut 10 per cent of their basic salary. As for the applicants who misuse the information, the body has suggested a fine of Rs100,000, a jail term of three months or both as punishment.
Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, the University of Karachi’s emeritus professor of journalism, said that former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto had agreed in the Charter of Democracy back in 2008 to grant the right to information to citizens.
But, he added, the Pakistan Peoples Party government did not form an independent commission in Sindh while the other provinces had already constituted their own bodies. Dr Khan was of the opinion that the people who have been inducted in the Sindh Information Commission are unknown and so they may not be able to get the body start functioning.
He stressed the need of launching an awareness campaign so that the people know about their right to information.