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Committee formed to review Punjab RTI law

ISLAMABAD: While the PML-N government is being hailed for introducing right to information (RTI) law in Punjab, the provincial bureaucracy is effectively blocking its implementation considering it a threat to its power.In a latest bid, a three-member powerful committee has been silently constituted by the chief secretary Punjab to examine

By Waseem Abbasi
July 10, 2015
ISLAMABAD: While the PML-N government is being hailed for introducing right to information (RTI) law in Punjab, the provincial bureaucracy is effectively blocking its implementation considering it a threat to its power.
In a latest bid, a three-member powerful committee has been silently constituted by the chief secretary Punjab to examine the RTI law and the role of Punjab information commission after the commission’s unanimous ruling against baboos who were refusing to share details of Governor’s House expenses under the law.
Sources said the committee comprising secretary information, secretary law and secretary implementation and coordination was formed a few weeks ago after the Punjab information commission ordered the Governor’s House officials to provide the required information to a complainant under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2013.
When contacted by The News secretary information Punjab Momin Agha admitted that a committee was formed on the issue of RTI.“The committee constituted by the chief secretary has the mandate to examine the queries pointed out (raised) by certain offices without making a clearer understanding about the roles and responsibilities of PIOs, the role and responsibilities assigned to information commissioners and the practical experience on understanding the same vis-à-vis public offices,” said the provincial secretary information.
However he denied any secret move by the bureaucracy to fail the RTI law in the province. “Punjab government believes in transparency and openness. I don’t know about this particular case but the Punjab information commission’s directions are generally followed by the government departments,” he said.
Sources said the tension between the two sides started when the Punjab information commission started playing an assertive role for the implementation of RTI law in the province. Hearing a complaint on February 12, 2015, the Punjab information commission had ordered the Public information officer of the Governor’s House, Tariq Shahzad, to provide the details of expenses of the top provincial constitutional office under the Punjab RTI law.
However, the order was not implemented and the secretary to governor wrote back to the commission raising objections against the order. He was of the view that the order was issued by one information commissioner instead of the entire commission and there are minor discrepancies in the name of the complainant mentioned on the information request and subsequent complaint document.
In response, the commission held a meeting on April 15, 2015 and rejected all the objections and issued a unanimous order to the information officer of the Governor’s House, directing him to furnish the required information immediately.The meeting was attended by chief information commissioner Mazhar Hussain Minhas, information commissioner Mukhtar Ahmad Ali and information commissioner Ahmad Raza Tahir.
When asked about the committee, a spokesman of the commission said: “There is nothing on our record about any committee constituted by the chief secretary to review the performance of the Punjab information commission. If any such committee was constituted, we have not been consulted or informed about it. So you may approach the concerned department for information in this regard.”
He said the commission was established on March 5, 2014 and, since then, it has made significant progress including the formulation of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Rules 2014, notification of the Schedule of Costs for the guidance of applicants and government officers and issuance of multiple circulars to remind and guide public bodies about their responsibilities under the Act.
The commission has also issued guidelines about the designation of public information officers and trained around 350 public information officers through 16 training workshops, each held for two days, at the Management Professionals Development Department (MPDD).
He said the commission has also developed its website (www.rti.punjab.gov.pk), which provides significant resources for the guidance of people and officers.The commission has also launched and completed its media campaign in May/June 2015 through print and electronic media to create public awareness about the Act.
The commission has so far received around 1200 complaints of which around 600 have been resolved or decided. “The pendency of around 600 complaints is largely because of the challenges that we faced in terms of establishing the office and arranging the required staff,” he said.