Monday June 05, 2023

Sindh RTI Commission moved against itself for denying information

September 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: A group of citizens has adopted a novel approach to watch the watchman---Sindh Information Commission---which has been a non-starter after the passage of more than two years when it was notified on May 30, 2018.

They have lodged a complaint to the Commission against the Commission for denying access to the information about the duties performed by the Commission and the budget it spent.

The Commission is an oversight body set up to ensure citizens’ right to know by adjudicating in matters where the Sindh-based organisations funded by public money deny access to information. The Commission is vested with judicial powers to enforce its writ. On the issue under question, the Commission is denying information about itself, let alone helping in seeking out from others, which are as much unwilling to do that.

Based in Karachi, this group of citizens has a history of struggle for the public right to know and their efforts were started when even the majority of journalists were not acquainted with the term ‘RTI’ (Right to Information). Dr Syed Raza Ali Gardezi, Naeem Sadiq and Capt (R) Farooq Dawood Herekar have been at the forefront in this movement for transparency. They keep writing to different public bodies in order to seek information of public interest and in cases the obtained details were further used to help citizens get their legal rights, which was being denied to them.

In June this year, they separately wrote to the Chief Information Commissioner, the head, asking about duties that the Commission has performed as mandated by the Sindh Transparency & Right to Information Act, 2016. They asked 1) if the Commission has published rules needed to direct the departments for maintenance of public record, 2) the compliance of public bodies with regard to maintenance of record and the action, if taken, against the non-compliance, 3) the appointment of designated Public Information Officers (PIOs) of public bodies for dealing with the information requests, 4) number of complaints received to the Commission against the public bodies refusing information to citizens, 5) the complaints decided by the Commission as per stipulated time frame of 45 days in each case, 6) inquiries conducted against the public bodies for denying information, 7) the number of PIOs of public bodies trained for facilitating the public on information, 8) awareness campaign for public about this right, 9) address of the Commission’s web portal if there is any, 10) copies of user’s handbook in different languages, 11) copy of the guidelines for the PIOs, 12) the Commission’s annual performance report and other such questions.

Under Section (8) 3 of the Sindh Transparency & Right to Information Act, 2016, the Commission was required to share desired information within 15 working days. It was not done. According to this Act, an applicant can file an application for the internal review of the public body in the event of non-receipt of information within the prescribed period of 15 working days. That was done by applicants. Again, no reply was received. After this, they invoked Section 11 of the Act for filing a complaint this month against the Commission to the Commission, which is bound to address it within 45 working days.

Another set of applications by the above-said individuals were related to the details of budget being spent on the salaries of the Chief Information Commissioner and two Commissioners, the perks & privileges granted to them, the amount they have claimed under the heads of TA/DA, the staff hired to assist in the working of the Commission, funds spent on miscellaneous expenses etc. This request has met the same fate, as the Commission has not replied forcing the applicants to file a complaint against the Commission as it is the appellant forum against refusal of information.

The News spoke to Sikandar Huliyo, one of the commissioners of the Commission. Asked why the information about the Commission is being denied, he didn’t give reasons but said it would be provided soon. He said there are some individuals getting “personal” but didn’t explain it further. Sikandar admitted that the Commission wasn’t doing its job properly and attributed failure in this respect to the delay at bureaucratic level in rule formation which caused a budget lapse the first year. Also, he said, they were unable to staff the Commission in absence of rules. He said the Commission was now in receipt of 70 to 80 complaints at present.

The departments concerned, Sikandar explained, has been directed to provide the information and only three have responded positively. He attributed this negative response of the public bodies to the lack of awareness about rules. Asked what action has been taken against the non-compliance, he said the Commission was considering this option.