Sunday July 14, 2024

Bureaucrats trying to fail RTI law

By Arshad Aziz Malik
August 21, 2019

PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is facing a major challenge to change the mindset of bureaucracy by implementing the Right to Information Act in letter and spirit. Some of the babus are trying to make the RTI law a failure.

These colonial mindset bureaucrats are creating hurdles in free access to information and are still unwilling to share information in the best interest of the department. The Right to Information Act 2013 was enacted by the PTI government with the objective to ensure free access to information in government departments and create a transparent and corruption-free environment conducive to the growth of democracy.

The KP government spearheaded the country's legislatures in becoming the first to introduce this progressive RTI Act. It was declared one of the best Right to Information Act introduced by the PTI government followed by other provinces and federal government.

Access to information is fundamental right of every citizen but implementation of the RTI law is the biggest task in KP as departments are not providing information in speculated time. This scribe sent several letters to different departments, but they are reluctant to reply including Forest Department, Finance, Police, Mines and Mineral Department, Rescue and Emergency Department and Establishment Department.

However, few applications were entertained by the departments after the intervention of the RTI commission, but still some of the departments are using different delaying tactics to hide information. It has been observed that without the directives of the RTI commission, departments are not replying with required information. Recently, this correspondent approached the RTI commission against several departments and one of the departments Rescue and Emergency Department has sent a letter to pay Rs 40,000 for photocopies of documents.

The KP Forest Department was sent a letter on October 25, 2018 to provide details of inquiries against officials suspended or dismissed from service due to misconduct or irregularities in the billion tree tsunami project, but they have refused to reply, declaring it mala fide intentions. Another application was sent on February 12, 2108 for Arandu illicit cutting issue, but the department once again did not respond. Another request was forwarded regarding rest houses expenses in the Forest Department, but it was not entertained by the department. The Forest Department public information officer was summoned by the commission after passage of one year in July, 2019. The RTI commission after hearing both parties directed the Forest Department to provide information to the complainant but no documents were yet received.

The Finance Department was approached on February 2, 2019 to provide details of honoraria given to KP officials, but they have not bothered to reply. Similarly, a letter was sent to the Police Department to seek details of direct procurement on May 9, 2019, but they have not responded despite the instruction of the RTI commission.

The Emergency and Rescue Department was asked to provide certain details of their procurement and appointments during the last five years, but they sent a letter to pay Rs 40,000, just to hide information. Otherwise, they could send information in soft copy.

In several cases, the Public Information Officers (PIOs) appointed in the departments for providing the required information were fined and served with show cause notices. The RTI commission has issued directives to all departments to provide information to this scribe, but they are still playing with the rules.

A spokesman of the commission told this scribe that the situation would be improved with the passage of time and the commission has taken several steps including training and awareness campaigns for the masses and PIOs. The RTI commission has the authority to impose fine or imprisonment. According to Clause 26(3) (b), fine up to Rs 250 up to a maximum of Rs 25,000 can be imposed on any official who has acted willfully to obstruct any activity which is required to be undertaken by this act, including with a view to preventing or delaying the disclosure of information to a requester.

The RTI further declared obstruction of information a criminal offence, according to Clause 28-(1), it is a criminal offence to willfully:(a) obstruct access to any record with a view to preventing the exercise of a right provided for in this act, (b) obstruct the performance by a public body. The commission in empowered to punish the officer or official willfully hiding information and according to anyone who commits an offence under sub section (1) shall be liable to a fine not exceeding rupees fifty thousand or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years.