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Information Commission snubs NSPP for concealing promotion data

By Ansar Abbasi
May 28, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The civil bureaucracy’s prime training institution-- the National School of Public Policy (NSPP) -- which had refused to share information regarding some key recent appointments made in the institution, has been directed by the Pakistan Information Commission to provide the required data to the person concerned.

The NSPP has been told that Article 19A secures citizens’ fundamental right of access to information to make the government accountable to the people and to improve the participation of people in public affairs so that corruption and nepotism in government appointments is reduced. This fundamental right of citizens cannot be denied or delayed at the whim of public functionaries.

Retired joint secretary and former information service officer Nasir Jamal had sought information about the selection process adopted for the appointment of three deans at the NSPP under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017. The school management, however, withheld part of the required information claiming exclusion under section 7 of the Act.

Nasir Jamal, who was one of the contenders for the posts of deans at the NSPP, approached the Pakistan Information Commission which early this week decided the case in his favour and directed the Rector NSPP to immediately provide the required information to the appellant.

According to the Commission’s order, the NSPP withheld information about the following three queries of the appellant: The recorded reason why and which selection board members did not ask questions to online candidates and which selection board members abstained from asking questions, with the reasons thereof; the minutes of the NSPP selection board meeting along with recommendations submitted to the NSPP BOG.; recorded details about the process of due deliberations/diligence invoked by the NSPP selection board in recommending three candidates in order of merit.

The Commission said that the sole issue before it was to determine whether the recorded reasons, minutes of the selection board meetings along with the recorded recommendations of the selection board for the selection of the successful candidates are open for declaration as public record under the Act.

It explained that the public body had claimed exclusion from disclosure whereas a cursory reading of section 7 of the Act does not provide the “selection policy” as grounds for claiming exclusion from disclosure. “Rather, sub-sections a, b and c (of the Section 7) unambiguously provide that the noting on the files, minutes of meetings and any intermediary opinion or recommendation are accessible subject to the final decision by the public body,” the Commission noted.

It added that the appointment of deans was finalised on Feb 12, 2021 before the filing of the information request by the appellant to the NSPP, which has “wrongly and illegally claimed the plea of section 7 of the Act in the reply”.

The Commission said that transparency in the working of the government departments is the essence for the enactment of the 2017 Act. “Its spirit is to ensure that the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have access to the records held by the federal public bodies for making the government accountable to the people. This practice would improve the participation of the people in the public affairs aimed at reducing corruption and nepotism in the appointments in the government.”

The Commission added, “The fundamental right of access to information guaranteed to the citizens under Article 19A of the Constitution of Pakistan read with the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 cannot be denied or delayed at the whims of the public functionaries.”