ISLAMABAD: Despite receiving over 300 public complaints during the last 14 months, the Right to Information (RTI) Commission (RTI) Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has not handed down a single sentence to violators of the landmark law. Resultantly, several public bodies in KP are continuously blocking access to information with impunity.According to
ISLAMABAD: Despite receiving over 300 public complaints during the last 14 months, the Right to Information (RTI) Commission (RTI) Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has not handed down a single sentence to violators of the landmark law. Resultantly, several public bodies in KP are continuously blocking access to information with impunity. According to information available on the website of RTI Commission, it received 321 complaints after the enactment of RTI Act 2013 of which 113 are still unresolved but not a single official of the government has been penalised for concealing the information. The official data shows that the commission received 290 complaints in 2014 against government officials for blocking access to information. As many as 89 complaints still remain pending, as the required information has not been provided by the respective government departments. Similarly, in 2015 so far the commission has received 31 complaints against public bodies for violating RTI law. Only two of 31 complaints have been resolved through commission’s intervention, the official data shows. The commission resolved the remaining complaints by directing the officials to comply with the law but no official was punished for hampering the free flow of information. According to its official website “the Commission can, while inquiring into a complaint, impose a fine on a Public Information Officer. The amount would be a daily fine of Rs250 up to a maximum of Rs25000.” Also under the KPK RTI Act, any one who willfully destroys or otherwise obstructs access to information that is subject to an RTI request, or complaint to the Commission, is committing an offence punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and /or a fine not less than Rs50000”. According to KP residents and RTI activists, the commission has turned into a mere post office owing to its failure to enforce the law. However, the Chief Information Commissioner KPK Maj(R) Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid claims that the commission is effectively working to ensure people’s access to information through awareness and persuasion. But Muhammad Naeem, a leader of Pakistan Tehrik-Insaaf (PTI) youth wing in Mardan strongly rejects these claims saying his RTI complaint is pending with the commission for the last seven months. “I sought information about number of employees in Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) in Mardan about seven months back and the matter landed in the commission but I am yet to get the correct information despite a hearing conducted by the commission on the issue,” Naeem said. He said the AWKU provided two contradictory figures about the number of employees in its written response so the commission was requested to penalise the management for delay and misinformation under RTI Act 2013. “But the commission again only directed Public Information Officer (PIO) of the university to provide me the correct information instead of imposing penalty on him for deliberately providing wrong information,” Naeem said adding that the leniency towards PIO is encouraging government officials to withhold necessary information. According to official document of the commission on the issue, a copy of which is available with The News, “the two letters conveying the total strength of employees in the university are in conflict with each other. The PIO promised to provide correct details to the complainant, complete in every respect, within three days.” The order was issued on January 13 but the complainant is yet to receive the information.When contacted, the spokesman of the RTI Commission KPK Mohammad Atif said he was aware of the complaints about delay in provision of information by public bodies. “We have informed the Chief Information Commissioner about the issue in writing and we are waiting for his response,” he said.Atif said the commission has been unable to formulate its rules regarding the penalties and that is why no punishments have been awarded to violators so far. Talking to The News, Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid said it would take time to change the culture regarding provision of information.“We are taking slow but steady steps towards complete implementation of the law. There are several issues like frequent posting of PIOs, lack of awareness etc that are hampering the progress on RTI,” he said. The Chief Information Commissioner said the Official Secret Act was introduced in 1923 and it remained enforced for almost a century resulting in strengthening a culture of secrecy. “It will take some time to change the culture. We are doing our best to convince the PIOs and government officials to change their attitude on information sharing,” he said.He applauded the RTI Act 2013 as a game changer in improving governance in the province.