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April 13, 2018

Call to make RTI effective

Lahore

April 13, 2018

LAHORE: Participants at a briefing session on "Effective Right to Information" demanded the Punjab government that Punjab Information Commissioners, whose posts have been lying vacant since March 2017, be appointed urgently and the use of RTI made effective across Punjab.

These views were expressed at the closing ceremony of PILDAT's project: Enhancing Empowerment of Women and Minorities of South Punjab through Effective use of RTI Law, with the support of USAID small grants and Ambassador's Fund programme. The briefing session and closing ceremony were organised by PILDAT in collaboration with the Punjab Information Commission (PIC).

Earlier, Aasiya Riaz, PILDAT Joint Director, said Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act (PTRTIA) 2013 are considered as an important landmark in the quest for transparency and accountability of the public bodies.

This Act promises "to provide for transparency and freedom of information to ensure that citizens have improved access to public information; to make the government more accountable to citizens."

However, the law has not been effectively utilised across Punjab. PILDAT has continued to support the effective utilisation of right to information in Punjab, as in other provinces. Through the project of Enhancing Empowerment of Women and Minorities of South Punjab through effective use of RTI law, with the support of USAID small grants and Ambassador's Fund Programme, PILDAT has targeted South Punjab and trained Public Information Officers (PIOs) in government departments and briefed more local government officials, CSOs and media, non-Muslim minorities and women in South Punjab. Punjab Information Commission Deputy Director Naeem Malik said Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, is functional even though Information Commissioners posts are vacant at the PIC. He said the PIC has received 4,000 applications, all of which, except 400, are resolved by the PIC.

Speaking on the subject of RTI Law; International and Regional Observations, Prof Kalim Ullah, former Information Commissioner, KP said India has the strongest track record in leading and implementing RTI legislation. India's legislation on the RTI began in its States in 1997, with 10 State legislatures passing RTI laws.

This happened because of a fierce grassroots movement led by Indian peasants and farmers. Ahmed Raza Tahir, former Information Commissioner, PIC, said that during his tenure at PIC, government employees withholding information after receiving information requests have been fined for not providing information regardless of their scale and designation.

Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami, senior journalist suggested that PILDAT should propose an amendment to Punjab RTI law that should ensure that sitting Information Commissioners continue with their posts until New Information Commissioners are appointed by the government. This would ensure that Information Commissioners' posts are never vacant in the Punjab Information Commission at any time and urged the Punjab government to increase allocation for Punjab Information Commission.