Punjab bureaucrats render RTI toothless
ISLAMABAD: The much touted Right to Information (RTI) law in Punjab is becoming a toothless piece of legislation as the top government officials are disregarding the orders of Punjab Information Commission by continuously blocking public access to information.
Almost 50 days have passed since the commission unanimously ordered the Governor House officials to share information about the working of the top office with citizens but the order has not been implemented so far. The Commission had issued a written order on 14th October 2015 directing the deputy secretary Governor House to provide the information by October 23.
A citizen had requested the Governor House in September 2014 to provide details of the month-wise bakery expenditure of the Governor House and information about gifts/presents given by governor to people under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013.
After failing to get information from the Public Information Officer, the citizen complained to the commission for intervention. But the required information is still not available to the complainant despite passage of 15 months.
“The Respondent is directed to provide the requested information to the complainants latest by 23/10/2015 under intimation to the Commission,” the Commission wrote in its order signed by Chief Information Commissioner Mazhar Hussain Minhas and two information commissioners Mukhtar Ahmad Ali and Ahmad Raza Tahir.
The Commission in exercise of its powers u/s 8 of the Act had also directed the Secretary to the Governor to establish an online Management Information System (MIS) for budget management, procurements and representations filed against the recommendations of Ombudsmen for easy public access to inter alia, final orders of the Governor and budget utilization.
It also advised the Chief Secretary of the Government of Punjab to constitute a committee of senior officers and other stakeholders to review and then develop recommendations for the amendment of laws, rules and manuals, which include provisions contradictory to the provisions of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. Earlier the Governor House official had refused to share information to the citizen arguing that oath of Governor does not allow sharing of such information.
“I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as governor of the province of Punjab except as may be required for the discharge of my duties as governor,” Deputy Secretary Tariq Shahzad quoted the oath as the basis for his refusal to provide information
Tariq Shahzad, who is also designated public information officer (PIO) of the Governor House, presented his arguments during a hearing before the Punjab Information Commission.The Commission had summoned the PIO to explain his failure in provision of information to a citizen under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013.
“The commission is not convinced that the above-referred part of the oath of the governor can be used to claim exemption from the purview of Article 19 A of the Constitution or the provisions of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, which was assented by the Governor himself without expressing any reservations,” the commission said in its order.
The order further states that in fact the governor is duty bound to disclose information, when it is required by the Constitution or law. The PIO gave several other excuses for non-provision of information about the Governor House expenses but the commission rejected all the arguments.