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December 21, 2013

Presidency delays info about Haj expenses under info rights law

Peshawar

December 21, 2013

ISLAMABAD: President Mamnoon Hussain is resisting to respond to a Freedom of Information request about his Haj expenses and is thus violating a presidential ordinance promulgated by one of his predecessors, Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Instead of responding to the questions sent by an activist private citizen, Naeem Sadiq, an anonymous caller rang him up inquiring about his intentions for asking questions to President of Pakistan.
The Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance was promulgated in 2002 and is still in force. It acknowledges public right to know about everything and everybody using taxpayers’ money.
Requesting information from Presidency is a classic case testing the efficacy of FOI law asany information refused by a public body allows a requester to file an appeal before the Federal Ombudsman. Public body can file representation before the President if the Ombudsman decides against it. However, in this case, the information is being requested from the Presidency itself. Any decision from the Ombudsman supporting the plea of requester will again go to the Presidency.
A Karachi-based Right to Information (RTI) activist, Naeem Sadiq, filed an information request under FOI Ordinance 2002 asking President Mamnoon Hussain about the expenses he incurred while leading a 30-member entourage for performing Hajj in October this year. There were conflicting reports in the media about who paid for the travel and stay of this entourage, which included members of personal staff as well as President’s relatives.
To clear the confusion that whether it was public money funded hajj or not, Naeem Sadiq filed an information request asking the following three questions: 1) names of all persons who accompanied the president during his Hajj visit to Saudi Arabia; 2) amount spent on travel and stay of each individual; 3) who paid for the travel and living expenses of each individual. Were they paid by the president from his own pocket or sponsored by the government

of Pakistan?
FOI law requires Presidency or any public institution to provide requested question within 21 days but it has not been done even after the passage of 48 days. “One did not expect the highest office to not follow the law of the land – clearly a violation of not just the FOI law but also that of Article 19A of the Constitution of Pakistan,” Naeem Sadiq wrote lamenting this violation of law.
The president enjoyed unblemished fame and nothing adverse about him ever appeared. The delay in response, however, could imply that either the information was being withheld because the president provided a free junket to his family and friends at the cost of taxpayers’ money or was simply not bothered about the FOI law or the Constitution of Pakistan, he further noted. Both inferences do very little to boost trust and admiration for the occupant of the largest house on Constitution Avenue, Naeem observed.
Now as he plans to move the Ombudsman against Presidency, this is not an effective forum either as it lacks power to enforce its decisions. Ombudsman can only recommend to a public body to provide the requested information.
As The News contacted the spokesperson of the Presidency for his version on this, she feigned ignorance about the request and said she came to know about it only through a newspaper article authored by the requester himself.
Commenting on spokesperson’s version, Naeem Sadiq said a call received from an unidentified number confirmed the receipt of the information request to Presidency and inquired about his intentions for asking such questions.
The spokesperson however told The News on December 12 that she was writing back to the requester responding to his queries. It has not been done yet.
When approached again Friday, she said she would do so after seeking advice from the legal consultant of the Presidency. She said the consultant underwent a surgery and the issue would be discussed with him once he returned to office.So the law will now take its course when a surgeon allows his patient to go to his office.