Key positions in information commission vacant
LAHORE: The Punjab Information Commission (PIC), the watchdog to ensure the Punjab right to information act, has been working without its vital officials for around three months.
The PIC, which helps people to get relevant information from the department concerned in case of non-compliance, is working without the chief and two information commissioners. Chief Information Commissioner Mazhar Hussain Minhas and information commissioner Malik Ahmad Raza Tahir completed their tenure on March 31, while information commissioner Ahmad Mukhtar Ali completed his term on April 30.
The Punjab information secretary, however, says the appointment of chief as well as information commissioners is a matter of couple of days as the government has reached consensus on certain candidates.
He said the matter of public complaints’ redressal has not been affected in the absence of information commissioners because the secretaries of administrative departments were asked to redress complaints, if the Public information officers fail to meet public request for information. The secretaries were asked to perform these duties following orders of the Lahore High Court on a petition by advocate Azhar Siddique.
Sources in the commission say information seekers continue facing problems due to government functionaries’ mindset of keeping every information “confidential”. Though, they say, the trends are changing the world over and openness is order of the day. They say the world organisations and donors demand that transparency must be ensured in the utilization of funds so that the benefit could reach at grassroots level. They also claim, “The level of transparency has increased and corruption reduced in Punjab”.
Since the PIC was constituted after the promulgation of The Punjab Transparency and Right To Information Act in December 2013, the Commission’s website has not been updated for years. The complaint status available on commission’s website dates back from January 2014 to June 2014. According to the 2014 six-month data, the Commission had received 70 per cent of complaints out of which 16 per cent were resolved and the remaining were “processed”. The page relating to “Orders on Complaints” could not be found on the website.
Sources in the Commission claimed that Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif was enthusiastic about the implementation of Right to Information and was a slogan among others before the 2013 general elections. After coming into power, the sources said, the law could be enacted following continuous pressure by journalists. Source said the Punjab government lost its enthusiasm after people started seeking information about usage of public exchequer by the chief minister and top government functionaries.
They also claimed that the government did give information to people about expenditures in the Chief Minister Secretariat, purchase of helicopter as well as salaries and perks being enjoyed by the chief secretary and the inspector general of police. They said the Commission was also instrumental in getting information about the expenditures in the Governor’s House. They also claimed that the Commission fined Irrigation executive engineer of Rs200,000 for not giving correct information to an applicant.
The information department officials do agree that there is an attitude of reluctance in the bureaucracy about sharing information with the general public and adds that this culture of colonial legacy needs to be changed. They, however, also point out about the hurdles in sharing the required information readily including non-computerisation of record.