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National

September 23, 2015

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Punjab Information Commission still understaffed

Punjab Information Commission still understaffed

ISLAMABAD: Despite introduction of much-trumpeted Right to Information (RTI) law, Punjab’s bureaucracy is still not allowing general public to access key details about the governance related issues and even the provincial Information Commission has failed to help around half of the complainants who knocked its door after failing to get facts from the government.
According to sources, 1,500 citizens filed complaints with the Punjab Information Commission since its inception in March 2014, but the commission has failed to resolve over 700 such complaints.
Under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, the commission is bound to announce its decision on a complaint against a public body within 30 days or maximum 60 days but the commission has failed to follow its on law on numerous occasions, the sources said.
The commission was formed to ensure implementation of RTI law and issue directives to government bodies for preservation, management, publication, publicity and access to information.
When contacted, Punjab Information Commissioner Mukhtar Ahmad Ali admitted that decisions on some complaints were pending with the body even after expiry of legal timeframe. However, he said the commission had serious capacity issues as it was enjoying itself the services of only one regular official against 43 sanctioned posts.
“In the absence of required staff the commission is unable to resolve complaints within stipulated time. We need staff for research, complaint management and awareness campaigns but the commission is performing all its duties with only one Superintendant provided by the Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD) of the Punjab government,” he said.
Mukhtar Ahmad Ali said the commission had made repeated requests to the government for provision of adequate staff for its functioning but to no avail.
“The official response we receive is that every government department is facing staff shortage so no additional staff is available to be deputed at the Information Commission,” he said adding that the commission had hired six junior staff members including peon, guard and sweeper on daily wages.
He said the commission could hire its own regular staff only after approval of its services’ rules by the government but the process was taking time.
According to website of the commission, it received Rs92.9 million as supplementary grant for the last fiscal year while its current budget is Rs44 million.
Sources said the commission was seeking additional budget this year to meet its expenses but so far the government had not approved its request.
They added that the government had reduced the commission’s advertisement related budget from Rs30 million to only Rs1 million, making it impossible for the body to launch mass awareness campaigns about the law through electronic and print media.
Talking to ‘The News,’ Punjab Secretary Information Momin Agha admitted that the commission was under staff. “Yes it is a fact that the Information Commission is facing staff shortage but the government is trying its best to resolve the issue. It is a new department and some government officials are hesitant to be posted there but we will work out a solution soon,” Agha said.
He said the other government departments were also facing the same issue. “We are working with the commission to resolve their capacity issues,” he said.
Asked about the budgetary allocations, the provincial secretary said his department had already forwarded the commission’s request for a supplementary budget to the finance department.
The functions of the Information Commission include training of the public information officers (PIOs), launching of mass awareness campaign to create awareness about the Act, rules and regulations and providing technical and other support to the public bodies for effective enforcement of Right to Information Law.

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